The bottom line is that interest-based solutions are less costly and more satisfying for both parties than rights-based solutions, and rights-based solutions are less costly and more satisfying than power-based solutions. Any form of negotiation like mediation or conciliation is less costly than litigation or arbitration. However, adjudicative approaches are less costly than strikes or wars. That is why when organizations design conflict management systems, they need to be sure that the system is sequenced properly and go from interest-based to right-based, and then power-based approaches to conflict resolution.
The authors indicate that interest-based processes can be hard to implement, because organizations are rights- and power-based structures by definitions, thus people in organizations typically default to using rights- or power-based processes to resolve conflict. It is quite common that during discussions about important decisions, supervisor of the team takes full responsibility and makes decision him/herself, appealing to his right in making final decision, even if it is not in everyone’s interest.
The right-based approach is one of the most common among the organizations. It includes investigation, fact finding, and adjudication on the one side and appeal processes on the other. Investigation and fact finding is required to get formal information for following decision-making. In this case, human resource manager or the line manager can become an ‘investigator’, however conflict of interests should be strictly avoided. There also should be a clear process on appealing the decisions. There are several ways for appeal, such as senior management review, peer review or even specifically appointed board of appeal with management and employee representative or outside arbitrators.
Interest-based processes in its turn are designed to address the interests of all the parties involved in a dispute without focusing only on legal or organizational rights and power of the parties. Interest-based processes are cheaper, faster and offer higher satisfaction to everyone taking part in the conflict. Formal rules of evidence are not required and the perceptions of the parties can be addressed to help achieve resolution. Rowe (1996) has pointed out some of the many interest-based options which can be implemented in organizations: Facilities for listening, feedback and counselling. The parties need to have a place where they can talk and describe situation to someone impartial, who can share valuable feedback about the situation and advise on how to act. This person can help them to look at the issue from different perspective and help to form several options on how to deal with it.
Designating representatives to assist complainants. Parties may want someone to represent their interest in the dispute due to multiple reasons. They might want to stay anonymous or they don’t feel the power to deal with the situation, so the organization can designate certain people to act as representatives in the disputes. Adopting a generic approach. It might be reasonable for the employer to create a policy resolving the whole issue in the particular field than target the complaints one by one. For example, an employee N has been sexually harassed at the workplace. Instead of dealing with this particular complaint, employer is better come up with a clear policy on sexual harassment in the organization and implement it for this and all possible following cases.
Designating an ‘organizational neutral’. This is about assigning a ‘neutral’ person within the organization who would be available for all the employees. It might not be specially appointed or hired ombudsperson, it could be a human resource manager for the whole company or an employee with an understanding how to deal with people and conflicts within the department. It can be a multifunctional person who would represent employees’ concerns, assist them with interpersonal discussions, give feedback, discuss the issue with a complainant, probably mediate informally through the dispute. The key to this position is person credibility in the office. If the person is not trusted around the office to be a ‘neutral’, the process will not be effective.
Internal and external mediation. Mediation can be executed in two possible ways: by internal mediator such as an ombudsperson or a trained employee, or by a real third-party mediator from outside the organization. It is beneficial for the company to have two options available to choose from according the nature and severity of the dispute. Preventative processes. The range of preventative activities is quite wide and includes trainings on conflict resolution and management, how to use company’s conflict resolution system, skills trainings for supervisors and employees, surveys about employee satisfaction on fairness and transparency of dispute resolution. At least, management has to ensure that everyone understands the company’s values and its commitment to resolving disputes.
Despite the above-mentioned processes, Rowe also writes about principles that should apply in the organization. The author indicates the necessity of both parties to decide where and how to enter the conflict resolution system. The organization should not demand that complainants should start having a talk with their supervisors and then proceed to the next level, it should be left to the complainants to decide. Moreover, the responsibility for achieving resolution should rest largely with the disputants. The system should not prevent parties from resolving the conflict themselves, on the contrary it should assist the parties to deal with the issue. There are certain cases, when the system must formally take over and ensure a fair process is maintained, but in general, it leaves the responsibility on the parties.
Rowe explains that an ideal system is a mix of formal and informal processes and procedures, for the parties of conflict to choose from. For example, the disputant could choose from an informal off-the-record with the human resource manager or start with a formal mediation process right from the very beginning. The choice will depend on the nature and severity of a conflict as well as on the relationship between the parties, both personal and hierarchical. Having both formal and informal processes on track increases the possibility that conflict will be resolved and leaves the parties to decide how to approach the conflict more appropriately. Rowe also indicates the necessity of giving the parties an ability to ‘loop forward and backward’ during the process of resolution. This implies to the situations, when the disputants want to move from interest-based procedure to a rights-based. For example, during a mediation session the complainant may choose to loop forward to fact-finding and to loop backward to mediation when the parties have investigated all the needed facts.
This is very important for achieving satisfactory resolution for both parties as it happens that when the process went in one direction (e.g. litigation), it may be stuck there for a long time. Moreover, it makes parties feel powerless about their own conflict resolution. The ability of loop forward and backward provides disputants with an opportunity to increase the value of the result and keep them involved and responsible for managing the conflict at the same time. As with any other part of a company, conflict management system should be continuously reviewed and improved based on its performance. Rowe says about the necessity of built in the system measurements and statistics, which would help organization with evaluation. Organization has to be sure that the system is used by a broad cross-section of employees on every level, that it is cost-effective and making the company better at what it does.