Parties in conflict may face a choice among various modes of conflict resolution–litigation, arbitration, mediation, or some other formal or informal process. Attorneys are accustomed to presenting their clients with this array of options, and explaining the pros and cons of each. But the choice of process may turn out to be less important in many cases than the choice of approach to resolving the conflict.
Parties choosing litigation, for example, are likely to approach that process with an adversarial mindset, filing every possible motion, and disputing every assertion made by the other side. This is the way many of us–including myself–were trained to litigate. But litigation can also be approached with a more cooperative attitude, and nowadays courts tend to encourage parties to work out disputes over pleadings, discovery and other pre-trial issues in a more collaborative manner. In many cases, parties forego a lot of permitted discovery and motion practice in the hope of resolving the case without incurring unnecessary costs.
Parties entering into mediation may understand that the process is supposed to encourage sharing of information and proposals for constructive solutions. Frequently, however, they arrive at mediation with the same adversarial attitude that we associate with litigation, determined to argue their case vociferously, and give in only grudgingly to their adversary’s demands. Sometimes that kind of belligerent attitude can even be effective in achieving a more favorable settlement. And some mediators conduct mediation in a quasi-judicial manner, offering their evaluations of the parties’ respective positions on the merits as if they were being presented in court.
I’m not suggesting that a cooperative approach is always better than an adversarial one. Sometimes you have to fight. What I am suggesting is that parties consider their approach to conflict as carefully as they consider the process for resolving their conflict. And most of the time, they will probably find that they can achieve more of their goals when they adopt a more cooperative attitude, whether they find themselves in court or in a more informal setting.
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