Conflict Research Consortium
University of Colorado, USA

Book Summary:

Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict

William Ury, Jeanne Brett, and Stephen Goldberg
San Francisco: Jossey-Bas Publishers, 1988, 201 pp.

Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict offers a systems approach to managing the ongoing series of disputes which 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" of a dispute systems design and implementation.

Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict will be of interest to those who wish to understand, design or improve set procedures for conflict resolution. This work is divided into eight chapters in two parts, and includes the appendix: "Model Rules for Grievance Mediation in the Coal Industry (1980)." 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," and so are seen as a normal aspect of any relationship or organization. Effective dispute systems can minimize the costs of such conflicts, and maximize the benefits.

Part One presents basic conceptual framework underlying the author's approach to dispute systems. Chapter One describes three ways of resolving conflicts. The first way is to reconcile disputants' basic interests, usually by a process of negotiation. The second is to determine who is right, by going to court, for example. The third is to determine who has more power. This approach is exemplified by strikes and war. The authors argue that the interests approach is less costly and more rewarding, and so is most preferable. Chapter Two focuses on diagnosis of the deficiencies of 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? Chapter Three presents six basic principles of dispute system design. These are: 1) focus on interests, 2) build in loop-backs to negotiation, 3) include low cost rights and power approach backups, 4) build in consultation before and feedback after, 5) arrange procedures from low to high cost, 6) provide the needed skills, motivation and resources. Chapter Four discusses the political tasks involved in making the new system work. The system designer must garner support for the new procedures, overcome resistance to change, and motivate disputants to use the new system. One way to do this is to involve the disputing parties in the diagnosis and design process.

Part Two 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.

Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict presents guidelines for developing systems and procedures to address the ongoing series of disputes which occur in any organization. It emphasizes the effective management of conflicts, rather than the avoidance or suppression of conflict.

Summary by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

G10URYW (10B)

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