In 1925, a visionary, Mary Parker Follet, identified three ways to make
decisions and resolve controversies: domination, compromise and integration.
Domination uses force, manipulation and deception. It requires the victory of
one side over another. This Follet says is the easiest way to deal with
controversies, but, in the long run, may be the most costly. The burning
resentment of a defeated foe is the hidden, but real cost of domination, also
known as the downside of winning.
But domination and superior force is sometimes necessary to help bring an
end to social injustices such as slavery in the US and more recently Nazism in
Europe. Dismay about the appropriate use of domination (regulation) to reign
in the financial and credit industries ignores how the under-regulation of these
industries, unleashed catastrophic consequences for the world.
Compromise and integration may on the surface appear to be more humane
and moral, controversies, however, have to be evaluated on their own merits.
Domination has a place at the table of decision-making, legislation, leadership
and dispute resolution.
Compromise according to Follet is the way in which we make most of our
decisions and settle most of our controversies. “We understand it well – each
side gives up a little in order to resolve the controversy. In short compromise
ensures that the activity that has been interrupted by the conflict may go on.
Compromise is the basis of trade union tactics. In collective bargaining, the
trade unionist asks for more than he can expect to get, allows for what is
going to be lopped off during the bargaining.”
Compromise is what led to a recent ceasefire between Israel and Gaza. It
requires more than salami slicing, and a complex analysis of the best
alternative to negotiated agreement (Batna) is sometimes required.
based on compromise may also be described as cooperative
decision-making. Everyone feels a touch of resentment – nothing compared to
the resentment resulting from domination.
The third way, in which Follet believed controversies could be resolved, is
through the integration of desires. Integration is favoured by mediators and
used by leaders in commerce and law – who as Amanda Boardman of the
Centre for Integrative Law would say, operate on a higher plane of
consciousness. Desires are what people really want – mostly based on self-interest.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with self-interest. Mediators and other
collaborative practitioners of our time prefer the term interests and concerns,
over the term desires.
To know what people really want, two things are necessary: ask and listen.
Attentive listening by a knowledgeable listener is the secret of integrative
decision-making and dispute resolution, and probably one of the hardest
things a human being can do. In a divorce case, asking and listening may
reveal that the mother has a greater interest to acquire ownership of the
house to raise her children, while the father has a greater interest to keep
spousal maintenance at a minimum.
Similarly, attentive listening by a knowledgeable and well-prepared listener
may reveal what the parties in complex legal and commercial disputes really
want and help to harmonise their interests.
Successful entrepreneurs and business leaders deftly integrate their interests
with that of their partners and other stakeholders. They will in future intuitively
prefer collaboration to cooperation – understanding that success derived from
collaboration is greater than success derived from compromise and
domination. They will also know that indecision is sometimes worse than
the wrong decision, and when necessary take decisions based on domination
Leaders in the legal profession, including judges and in-house counsel at
legal departments of companies, will in future become more skilled at
collaborative decision-making and dispute resolution techniques. Many such
leaders already realise that the world has become too integrated, complex
and volatile for one-dimensional decision-making and dispute resolution. They
wish to be, and should be, more conscious of integration as a tool to make
decisions and resolve disputes.
What is significant about Follet’s work is the convergence of dispute
resolution, organisational development and leadership. She integrated the
idea of organisational conflict into management theory, and is sometimes
considered the “mother of conflict resolution.” Peter Drucker called her the
“prophet of management.” Drucker himself is acknowledged as a pioneer in
organisational development and modern management thinking.
Woza Mediation South Africa salutes Mary Parker Follet for her vision of a
world different to the world described by the Greek historian Thucydides
“Since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in
question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the
weak suffer what they must.”
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