10 Steps for Dealing with Disputes

Some people relish a fight. Most, however, don’t — especially when the conflict results in litigation. This is especially true for business owners because litigation costs money, takes time and attention away from running the business, and can be emotionally exhausting. If you do find yourself in litigation, what should you do? Here are 10 techniques for resolving disputes. 

  1. Recognize that most disputes are resolved by the parties before a trial. While reliable statistics are almost impossible to come by, it’s a fact that most disputes do get resolved without a trial. Remember that and take heart: no matter how bad things seem at first or how unpleasant the process may become, the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of a pre-trial resolution. 
  2. Acknowledge your feelings. Anger, despair, and frustration are just a few of the emotions likely to arise during a dispute. Rather than try to hide from this discomfort, recognize the feelings as they occur, talk about them with people you trust, and work to use them, or get to a place where these feelings aren’t ruling the day.
  3. Know yourself and the other side. When a dispute arises, spend some time thinking about what’s motivating everyone involved. Often it just comes down to money, but in many cases, there’s more lurking beneath the surface. What is really driving you? What do you think they want? Justice? Revenge? Admission of responsibility? Determine what those motives may be for both sides. It will be a huge help defining a path to resolution.
  4. Problem solve. Now that you’ve identified the motives underlying the dispute, spend some time thinking about possible resolutions to both the spoken and unspoken issues. Don’t just do this for yourself: imagine resolutions that would satisfy you and the other side too.
  5. Think about what’s really important. When imagining a resolution, identifying and ranking priorities can clarify what’s most important to you (and what’s not). This can also help you find solutions you may have overlooked.
  6. Envision different solutions. Make a list of potential outcomes and think about the impact each will have on your business in three months, six months and a year.
  7. Talk. Communication with the other party in a dispute is critical, and in today’s world of email and text nuance is often lost. What’s more, a lot of people find it easier to be a jerk by email or text than in person. Avoid this by insisting on in-person or virtual meetings where you can communicate face-to-face.
  8. Sometimes skilled third-parties can help you get to a resolution. Lawyers who handle a lot of disputes have seen it all before (really!) and may have fresh ideas and different perspectives that can help bring about the best possible outcome. Similarly, skilled mediators are experts at resolving disputes, often by working with the parties to identify the risks and costs of continued conflict and eventual litigation.
  9. A good resolution usually means everyone is unhappy. It’s a maxim you’ll hear from lawyers and you know why? Because it’s true. Compromise is generally unwelcome but it’s at the core of any dispute resolution, and compromise inevitably means that everyone has to give up something they’d rather not. But people usually find that once all is said and done, the compromise was worth it.
  10. Focus on the future, not the past. Try to forget what happened to cause the dispute and focus on what’s in front of you. Put aside thoughts of who is to blame. What’s past is past, and you’re not going to be able to change it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for what’s right or the best possible outcome. Just don’t let feelings about what happened in the past prevent you from attaining a resolution in the present that you’ll realize, in the future, was a satisfactory outcome.