Summary of "Getting Disputes Resolved"

Summary of

Getting Disputes Resolved

By Willian Ury, Jeanne Brett, and Stephen Goldberg

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Getting Disputes Resolved, Willian Ury, Jeanne Brett, and Stephen Goldberg, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988) 201 pp.

Getting Disputes Resolved presents guidelines for developing systems and procedures to address the ongoing series of disputes that inevitably arise within any relationship or organization. This text presents "a basic conceptual framework for dispute systems design, a variety of lessons and examples for practitioners, and a detailed case study"(p. xvii) of a dispute systems design and implementation. It emphasizes the effective management of conflicts, rather than the avoidance or suppression of conflict.

In their preface the authors discuss the need for systems and procedures to resolve common and recurring conflicts. "Disputes are inevitable when people with different interests deal with each other regularly,"(p. xii) and so should be seen as a normal aspect of any relationship or organization. Poorly managed disputes can result in lost profits, broken relationships, and even violence. When they are managed well, disputes can be part of a healthy process of growth and change. Effective dispute systems can minimize the costs of conflicts, and maximize the benefits.

The first four chapters present the basic conceptual framework underlying the authors' approach to dispute systems. Chapter One describes three ways of resolving conflicts. The first approach involves identifying and reconciling the disputants' basic interests. This is usually done through a process of problem-solving or interest- based negotiations. The second approach seeks to determine who is right, for example, by taking the case to court. The third approach is to determine who has more power. This approach can take the form of strikes or war, or show up in negotiations as an exchange of threats. The authors argue that the interests approach is less costly and tends to result in better relationships, more satisfactory outcomes, and less dispute recurrence.

Chapter Two focuses on diagnosing deficiencies in existing dispute systems. There are three main diagnostic questions: What types of disputes arise? How are disputes handled? Why do disputants use some procedures rather than others? Generally, disputants resort to the less effective power or rights approaches because they lack the skills, motivation or resources to use interest-based approaches, or because no interest-based procedures are available.

Chapter Three presents six basic principles of dispute system design. First, focus on reconciling interests. This can be done by designing negotiation procedures, and giving parties the skills and resources needed to use those procedures. Second, build in procedures that allow parties to "loop-back" to interest-based negotiation from rights or power approaches. Examples of loop-back procedures include advisory arbitration and cooling-off periods. Third, include low cost rights and power approach backups, in case interest-based negotiations fail--foe example, arbitration rather than litigation, or voting rather than fighting. Fourth, build in procedures for consultation before potential disputes, and for feedback after disputes. Consultation can help avert a potential conflict, and feedback helps parties avoid similar future disputes. Fifth, arrange dispute resolution procedures from low to high cost. This assures that high cost methods are only used after lower cost methods are exhausted. Finally, provide people with the skills, motivation and resources they need to use interest-based negotiation procedures.

Chapter Four discusses the political tasks involved in making a new dispute system work. The system designer must garner support for the new procedures, overcome resistance to change, and motivate disputants to use the new system. The primary way to do this is to involve the disputing parties in the diagnosis and design process. Other ways to motivate the parties include offering training programs, and setting dispute resolution goals, and publicizing the system's successes.

The second half of the book presents a detailed case study of dispute systems design in the coal industry. Chapter Five reviews the diagnosis process as applied to the wildcat strikes which plagued the coal industry during the 1970s. Chapter Six focuses on the authors' diagnosis of the dispute system in place at the Chaney Creek mine, which had been particularly hard hit by wildcat strikes. This chapter describes the design and implementation of an improved dispute system. Chapter Eight describes author Goldberg's efforts to apply the successes of the Chaney Creek system to the coal industry more generally, and analyzes the resistance he has encountered in the attempt. The text concludes with the appendix: Model Rules for Grievance Mediation in the Coal Industry (1980).