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<xTITLE>Alternative Dispute Resolution In A Work Setting</xTITLE>

Alternative Dispute Resolution In A Work Setting

by Rochelle Gunn

This article is courtesy of, a website committed to making the lives of HR professionals and business managers easier.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has become an excellent substitute for traditional methods of work place grievance resolution. ADR is a good method for resolving disagreements, conflicts and work place issues without having to enlist the services of attorneys, arbitrators or the courts. ADR uses the tenants of mediation and negotiation to find a compromise to a problem that is suitable for both parties. It involves less risk for the parties and leads to a quicker resolution. ADR expedites cases, whereas traditional litigation can become a lengthy and costly process.

ADR can produce better results that are based on the interests of both sides in contrast to a legal decision, where the outcome is based on the positions of the parties. It allows the parties of the dispute to choose a style that works for them and tailor it to their needs. Both parties bargain a resolution with the assistance of a trained mediator who acts as a neutral third party. A resolution is made only with the consent of the two parties involved. None of the resolutions that the mediator proposes are binding. They are simply suggestions to facilitate the negotiation process.

ADR is different from typical forms of dispute resolution. For example, during litigation, a judge determines the outcome of a dispute. The decision is final and binding regardless of the parties’ satisfaction with the outcome. Therefore, the benefit of ADR is that it permits the parties to maintain control over the dispute. Party members actively participate in the resolution, which promotes a “win-win” outcome that is mutually satisfying.

Why is it Important in a Work Setting?

Mediation should be viewed as a mechanism to structure future work relationships. It should be considered as the first step in resolving disputes before going to arbitration. ADR helps to resolve issues without the complication of lengthy legal proceedings or the notion of “us vs. them” which can threaten good working relationships. Mediation works well enough that many organizations are focusing on in house mediation. In fact, mediators are being added to HR department budgets and staff. One caveat is that the perceived unbiased nature of the mediator must be maintained.

ADR is important because of its many benefits to the workplace. Some benefits include:

  • The parties are free to select their own mediator (see the above caveat)
  • Parties determine the outcome, not the mediator
  • Decisions reached by the parties themselves are more durable than one which has been imposed by a court or arbitrator
  • The atmosphere of the negotiations are less formal than court or hearings
  • ADR saves time and money
  • There is less risk for the parties. People in the negotiation are free to turn down suggestions made by the mediator and walk away from the process and resort to traditional dispute resolution methods.

ADR in the work setting is important to maintaining the mission and goals of an organization. Dealing with conflict constructively results in thoughtful and researched decisions that move the organization toward obtaining their objectives. Dealing with conflict destructively, however, can result in poor decisions, low employee morale, and a tense working environment. Successful organizations deal with conflict in a manner that improves rather than destroys staff relationships and that attempts to leave all parties satisfied with their solutions.

What are the Steps in an ADR Process?

Most unionized environments will have a process for negotiation and dispute resolution within their collective agreements. However, union and management should work together to create an environment for mediation and negotiation that improves and maintains their working relationships while resulting in efficient and effective resolutions to problems and issues.

There are some important steps in an ADR process that should be followed in order to ensure the success of this method of dispute resolution.

  1. It is important to always separate the people from the problem.
    For example, negotiators should not intertwine the people involved in the dispute as part of the problem. Sometimes negotiations can become heated, causing emotions to run high. Regardless of the emotions, it is important to treat people sensitively.
  2. Know your case.
    Always begin the ADR process by defining the problem. Know and understand which facts are being disputed and which are undisputed. Assess which facts are critical and disregard those that are merely background.
  3. Develop alternatives to settlement
    Avoid premature judgement of the case. Brainstorm with your party, and the opposing party, about possible options for resolution. Note: this is not an attempt to make decisions. This is a time to search your alternatives and assess options you may not have considered before.
  4. Use objective criteria to facilitate negotiations
    Use standards and procedures that are fair and reasonable to develop the case. Never allow pressure to dictate the meditation. Rather, work towards a mutually beneficial resolution by analyzing objective criteria and principled arguments.

What are the Roles of the People? What is the Value?

The people, who take part in the ADR process, must be committed to this method for dispute resolution. They must recognize that their role in the process is integral to the ultimate success or failure of this procedure. Thus, there are times when ADR does not work. The following reasons outline why mediations become deadlocked and illustrate the importance of people’s roles in the ADR process.

  1. Failed mediations can result from a lack of settlement authority
    In some cases, failures of the ADR process are the result of a necessary party member not attending the proceedings. Those with authority, such as the CEO of a company or the union leader, must attend in order for the process to work. If key party members who have the authority to make decisions are not present during negotiations, then any attempts at resolving the dispute are lost. The absence of the decision maker results in key arguments for the resolution of the dispute not being heard by those who have the authority to implement the decision.
  2. Lack of preparation
    (i.e. party members who do not know enough about their own case to be able to reach a settlement). It is important to know what the case is about. The problem at hand must be defined and assessed in order for the mediation process to be successful. Research the problem/case carefully before beginning the ADR process.
  3. The parties must enter into the ADR process in good faith
    Malicious, bad faith negotiations poison the chances for success of the mediation. The party members must not look at this process as leading to one side winning over the other. Rather, they must enter the mediation with the intention of resolving the dispute amicably and efficiently so that a “win-win” resolution is attained.

ADR is an alternative. It remains as such because it works most of the time – not all of the time. However, it is a good alternative if both parties enter into the process with the intention of working out their conflicts in a positive, cost effective and efficient manner. Even in areas where parties would not expect mediation to help them, it has educated them and moved their organization forward in a positive way. Being aware of both the pitfalls and the opportunities for success can enable participants to use this procedure like any other negotiation tool available to find a better resolution to workplace issues.


This article was provided by is a website committed to making the lives of HR professionals and business managers easier. offers eight communities to address the specialties within human resources, including a section on Conflict and Dispute Resolution in our Labor Relations community. Within each community, users can access articles and research, find vendors/consultants, buy products or services and join discussion groups to learn from their peers.