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Tips, Tools, & Techniques

Dispute Resolution

Dispute resolution is an umbrella term that covers a wide spectrum of methods for settling cases and managing conflicts. Common to most of these methods is the participation of a disinterested third party, who may serve in a variety of roles. The following are some of the most common dispute resolution methods.

  • Negotiation: The parties to a dispute engage in back and forth discussions designed to reach a settlement of a dispute or conflict.
  • Shuttle Diplomacy/Conciliation: A third party seeks to bring disputing parties to agreement by lowering tensions, improving communications, explaining possible solutions, or providing technical assistance.
  • Facilitation: A third party plays no substantive role but provides information on process as parties with various viewpoints seek to collaborate on reaching a goal, completing a task, or settling a conflict.
  • Mediation: A third party, skilled in identifying areas of agreement, assists disputants in identifying common interests, inventing options for mutual gain, clarifying and narrowing differences, and designing settlement terms that will work for all parties.

Conflict Resolution Strategies

  • Do not speak in anger. Allow yourself the opportunity to cool off before expressing your viewpoint. You do not want your message to get lost while others focus on your emotions.
  • Try not to get drawn into some else’s negative emotional energy, no matter what is being said or how it is said. It is important to stay in control of one’s self, even when you may feel offended by the behavior.
  • Remember, it is not just what you say but how you say it. Take care to avoid finger pointing and accusations. Depersonalize your comment to the extent that it is possible. Be aware of your body language, eye contact, gestures, facial expression, tone inflection and volume when discussing the issues. Conflict resolution becomes more difficult when the parties involved respond defensively. Practice non-defensive communication.
  • Carefully choose an appropriate time and place to respond. Do not initiate a confrontation in public or when others are present. Choose the best time of day for yourself and the person with whom you are in conflict. Do not choose times when the other person is dealing with a loss or costly mistake, before an important event, at the end of a difficult or troublesome day, or when the person is in a hurry or working under pressure or a deadline.
  • Be calm, poised, and professional. Make notes for yourself so you can stay on topic and not forget the comments you want to make.
  • Give the other party the opportunity to share their side. Know that there is always another side of the story. We do not all see the same situation in the same way. Be open to another’s point of view even when you do not agree with the point of view.
  • Listen carefully and make sure the other person has your complete attention. Take notes to ask questions for clarification, not interrogation.
  • Empathize with the other person to demonstrate that you understand his/her point of view. By doing this, the other person will see that you are not just concerned about your own wellbeing but theirs as well.
  • If conflicts are ongoing, keep notes of dates, events, and circumstances so you have an accurate frame of reference.
  • The best approach is a face-to-face meeting when attempting to resolve conflicts. However, there are times when you may not be at your best verbally. You can write the person a letter. Writing a letter allows you to “save face.” You can choose your words carefully and give yourself time to calm down.
  • Don’t give up if you receive an unacceptable response to your concerns. Give it another try. Let the person know that you want to resolve the situation in a way that would be a “win-win” for everyone involved.
  • If you cannot resolve the conflict yourself, seek help. You may contact the Ombudsperson, the Department Chair, or someone else you trust and from whom you feel comfortable seeking advice.