The crippling costs, delays, uncertainties and other risks associated with dispute resolution are prompting more and more organisations to introduce dispute avoidance policies.
They recognise that it is better to avoid disputes than to try to resolve them later on.
However, many are finding that this is a lot easier said than done, and that what works in one situation doesn’t always work in the next.
It is easy for seemingly trivial differences to escalate into full-blown disputes, and for ill-considered attempts to defuse such situations to end up inflaming them.
What it is not
Dispute avoidance does not imply avoiding every dispute, at any cost. Some dispute are unavoidable; others may even be desirable.
A common mistake is to assume that a dispute has been avoided simply because it did not result in a summons. Most low-level disagreements never get anywhere near to that and are not even logged as disputes.
Consequently, the underlying grievances may go unrecognised and end up contributing to rising levels of customer, supplier, public and official hostility, the hidden cost of which can be enormous.
Most commercial disputes are due to one or more of a limited menu of causes, most of which are readily avoided by relatively simple procedures.
However, the path to confrontation and litigation is so embedded in some corporate cultures that it is difficult to curb the related adversarial instincts. There is also the sensitve question as to who benefits from the "I'll see you in court!" management style.
Not surprisingly, far more attention is usually paid to the resolution of disputes than to their avoidance in the first place. It is an expensive way of running a business.
A variety of measures have proved effective in reducing the number of disputes with which organisations have to contend. Examples include targeted executive and staff incentives, clearer contractual terms, revised reporting protocols, and more skilled stakeholder engagement.
However, none of these initiatives is likely to be remotely effective until and unless senior personnel forge a clear and consistent appreciation of exactly what is intended and how this can be achieved in practice. Specialist training is essential.
What we do
Dispute avoidance is at the heart of what we do.
We don’t just advise organisations on how to develop dispute avoidance policies; we also work closely with clients to -
identify and understand the causes of their disputes;
assess what would be required to address each cause;
develop appropriate policies and procedures; and
induce related changes in organisational behaviour.