To resolve a dispute means to turn opposing positions into a single outcome. The two parties may choose to focus their attention on one or more of three basic factors. They may seek to (1) reconcile their interests, (2) determine who is right, and/or (3) determine who is more powerful.
A. Interests are needs, desires, concerns, fears, the things one cares about or wants. They provide the foundation for a person’s or an organization’s position in a dispute. In dispute, not only do the interests of one party not coincide with those of the other party, but they are in conflict. For example, the director of sales for an electronics company gets into a dispute with the director of manufacturing over the number of TV models to produce. The director of sales wants to produce more models because her interest is in selling TV sets; more models mean more choice for consumers and hence increased sales. The director of manufacturing, however, wants to produce fewer models. His interest is in decreasing manufacturing costs and more models mean higher costs.
B. Reconciling such interests is not easy. It involves probing for deeply rooted concerns, devising creative solutions, and making trade-offs and compromises where interests are opposed. The most common procedure for doing this is negotiation; the act of communication intended to reach agreement. Another interest-based procedure is mediation, in which a third party assists the disputes, the two sides in the dispute, in reaching agreement.
C. By no means do all negotiations (or mediations) focus on reconciling interests. Some negotiations focus on determining who is right, such as when two lawyers argue about whose case has the greater merit. Other negotiations focus on determining who is more powerful, such as when quarrelling neighbors or nations exchange threats and counter threats. Often negotiations involve a mix of all three—some attempts to satisfy interests, some discussion or rights, and some references to relative power.
D. It is often complicated to attempt to determine who is right in a dispute. Although it is usually straightforward where rights are formalized in law, other rights take the form of unwritten but socially accepted standards of behavior, such as reciprocity, precedent, equality, and seniority. There are often different—and sometimes contradictory—standards that apply to rights. Reaching agreement on rights, where the outcome will determine who gets what, can often be so difficult that the parties frequently turn to a third party to determine who is right. The most typical rights procedure is adjudication, in which disputants present evidence and arguments to a neutral third party who has the power to make a decision that must be followed by both disputants. (In mediation, by contrast, the third party does not have the power to decide the dispute.) Public adjudication is provided by courts and administrative agencies. Private adjudication is provided by arbitrators.
E. A third way to resolve a dispute is on the basis of power. We define power, somewhat narrowly, as the ability to pressure someone to do something he would not otherwise do. Exercising power takes two common forms: acts of aggression, such as physical attack, and withholding the benefits that derive from a relationship, as when employees stop working in a strike.