In this article we will provide a checklist that will help you assess the gaps between your organization’s conflict management practices and an Integrated Conflict Management System.
As the trend towards negotiating and mediating grows, wave after wave of lawyers is taking training in interest based negotiation and mediation. Many lawyers are now describing themselves as “collaborative lawyers” and committing themselves to taking an interest based, rather than adversarial approach to litigating and negotiating disputes.
Most of America’s corporations have tried ADR, 1 some regularly use it, and in some provincial jurisdictions, a mediation session is mandatory for all litigation cases.
Yet as practical and effective as ADR can be, it still serves only the “back end” of disputing, usually long after the dispute arose.
The field of ADR is now moving to the “front end” of disputing, through the introduction of methods for preventing unnecessary conflict; and where conflict does arise, responsibly managing it. The new terminology that encompasses the entire range of prevention, management, and all forms of resolution including ADR, is “Conflict Management” (CM).
When organizations go beyond ad hoc, case-by-case dispute resolution and turn their focus to systematically integrating all of these approaches into their day-to-day business, plus add processes that shift their conflict culture towards prevention, the new phenomenon is called an “Integrated Conflict Management System” (ICMS)2.
Integrated Conflict Management Systems are leading edge developments and are becoming a key part of organizational development strategies, because they are understood to be essential elements of initiatives designed to transform organizational culture.
What differentiates a system from case-by-case approaches is that in addition to dispute resolution techniques, a system has features that focus on the prevention of unnecessary conflict and (when conflict does arise) on managing conflict. Disputes are often simply the symptom of an underlying problem. An ICMS lays the foundation for addressing the causes of the conflict, rather than just the dispute.
“Conflict” is a word that encompasses all disputes and much more. Conflict denotes any difference, problem, tension or dispute experienced by one or more parties, whether or not the conflict has been brought to the attention of the others. Conflict can be generally said to have become a dispute after there has been some stressed interaction and position-taking by the parties. 3
What makes a system? Model + Fostering and Sustaining Environment
When an organization takes a systems approach to conflict management, it introduces two key components:
1. It develops or improves its dispute resolution model.
2. It creates a “Fostering and Sustaining Environment” (“FSE”)
1. It develops or improves its dispute resolution model It starts by developing or modernizing its basic dispute resolution procedures. It selects a variety of dispute resolution procedures that it intends to use, and organizes them in a low-to-high cost sequence. – a “dispute resolution model”.
Figure 1 shows a generic dispute resolution model.
2. It creates a “Fostering and Sustaining Environment”
On its own, a dispute resolution model is not a system.
The dispute resolution model is, of course, a sine qua non of a system, but it is only one of two core components (Figure 2). To the model are added various supporting processes and structures that are introduced across the organization to facilitate success. The resulting environment is called “a Fostering and Sustaining Environment”.
The individual initiatives and options that nurture a Fostering and Sustaining Environment are called “Fostering and Sustaining Elements”. They are organization-wide practices and support structures that assist the organization in:
For example, managers and employees in relevant positions are provided skills and resources in order to focus on prevention and early resolution – and they are also held accountable to do so. The system constantly reinforces the concept that conflict management means much more than dispute resolution and that interest-based language and behaviour must become everyday practice. It creates “an atmosphere and culture where all conflict may be safely raised and where persons will feel confident that their concerns will be heard, respected and acted upon, with support provided. The “default reaction” shifts from one of shrugging off or escalating conflict, to accepting it positively and encouraging early, low level solutions.” 4
A checklist to help you conduct a gap analysis between your organization’s practices and respected best practices:
Organizations can select and customize from a long list of Fostering and Sustaining Elements and create their own. However, in order to meet the full definition of an Integrated Conflict Management System, the system must incorporate most aspects from all of the following four categories of fostering and sustaining elements:
1. Corporate commitment, evidenced by such things as:
2. Structures that support implementation and institutionalization, and trust in the system; for example:
3. Internal capacity building:
4. Daily practices that encourage a front-end approach to conflict management:
1 Lipsky, David B. and Seeber, Ronald L. The Appropriate Resolution of Corporate Disputes: A Report on the Growing Use of ADR by U.S. Corporations. Ithaca, NY: Cornell/PERC Institute on Conflict Resolution, 1998. p.23
2 We attribute this phrase to Dr. Mary Rowe, ombudsman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from whom we first heard it. See also, “Designing Integrated Conflict Management Systems within Organizations- Guidelines for Practitioners and Decision-Makers within Organizations,” Cornell Studies in Conflict Resolution, No 4 in the series, 2002.
3 Examples of conflicts that are not (yet) disputes would include: an employee who feels that the supervisor is showing bias toward another but who says nothing; an employee who shares a work station with another and is highly irritated by noise or messiness but says nothing; a supplier to a corporation who fees badly treated but chooses not to complain for fear of being cut off from further contracts.
4 This article is excerpted from, “The Emergence of Integrated Conflict Management Systems as an Organizational Development Strategy. Publication pending, U of Toronto Press, 2003, further develops concepts originally written by Jennifer Lynch, Q.C. See Lynch, J. “ADR and Beyond: A Systems Approach to Conflict Management” Negotiation Journal, 2001, Volume 17, Number 3, July 2001, p. 207.
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