What did I learn in 2017 about resolving disputes?
The observations below are based on experience plus a little theory; doing stuff with clients which mostly worked, and the occasional train-wreck along the way; and are prompted by seeing the play Oslo, from which I borrow for the title of this blog.
So here are some observations for 2018, which may well form a theory over time:
- Disputes are a fact of life
- They rarely resolve themselves and should neither be ignored nor avoided
- Disputes are best dealt with swiftly and constructively before they spin out of control, as they will if left to foment
- Litigation won't resolve much, if anything, but you will feel better for a very short period of time, typically before the first fee note from your lawyer arrives
- If something feels wrong, it usually is - don't ignore these feelings, or indeed any such feelings
- Disputes are inherently emotional and irrational so be prepared to deal with this and don't for one moment think that rationality alone will prevail or help resolve matters
- When something kicks off, stop sending emails, txting, tweeting etc. The toxic matrix of social media is not designed to resolve disputes, quite the contrary usually
- Before entering into a relationship, business or personal, agree how disputes will be handled and document this agreement where possible. Make no assumptions or rather explore each of your assumptions in great detail
- It's impossible to draft such agreements in the midst of a dispute. Quiet and reflective discussions about difficult issues are hugely valuable
- If it goes pear shaped, it may do so again or at least it will feel as though it is happening again. Agree a protocol which sets out how to deal with disputes as and when they happen, even when there is only the slightest hint of trouble
- It's very easy and indeed comforting to be stuck in the past or immediate present when in a dispute, with your fists in the air - focus instead on the future and your interests
- Sitting and talking together, regardless of how painful this might be, is very helpful
- You will not win in most disputes although it may feel so for a short period of time
- Some people enjoy and take pleasure from being in a dispute - these people are best avoided, although they are difficult to spot on occasion
- Responsibility for disputes is typically a shared one so be prepared to take this responsibility and do not avoid it
- Recognise there is a world of difference, and on occasion a world of pain, between what you intend to say and do and the impact of what you say and do
- Resolving disputes can be hard work and relentless however discussions which fail often lead to discussions which then succeed
- Having an independent, neutral person to facilitate the discussion and coach an agreement is usually very helpful
From here to there.