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James P. Groton, Chris Honeyman &
Andrea Kupfer Schneider
Editors’ Note: In several distinct domains of conflict—heavy construction, international relations and U.S. labor relations—there are by now highly sophisticated and widely-adopted techniques for anticipating future conflict. If not ensuring outright that there will be only minimal such conflicts, these techniques at least encourage the conflicts which inevitably follow the formation of a new relationship to be handled with a minimum of time, cost and stress to all involved. For the most part, the evidence is that these systems work. Surprisingly, however, most other industries and domains have yet to adopt anything comparable. The authors analyze the history and the sources of resistance, and offer a new strategy toward wider adoption and adaptation of these proven tools.
In 2007, two of the authors of this chapter, with three other colleagues, wrote an article that attempted to analyze a puzzling phenomenon: a pattern of large organizations, with predictable conflict in the offing, nevertheless routinely—or even deliberately—failing to think ahead. (Honeyman et al. 2007) That article reviewed the consequences of recent failures to anticipate or prepare for events, analyzed causes and explanations of these failures, reviewed the resources that make it possible to do strategic anticipatory planning, and outlined possible ways in which appropriate skills can be brought to bear to advance the field of conflict anticipation and management. The article also argued that it was time that our field developed a new professional specialty, of assistance to companies and other organizations to encourage them to take the proactive steps necessary in their organization’s medium-and longer-term interest.
Even at that time there were already in existence some well-established examples of parties doing exactly what we were suggesting: successful uses of proactive steps to anticipate and manage conflict. A prime example was the construction industry, which had, during the past 40 years, developed a sophisticated suite of tools for preventing, solving, de-escalating, and achieving almost instantaneous resolution of problems and potential disputes. (CPR 1991; CII 1995) Other examples of similar tools existed in the fields of labor relations and international relations. And use of these tools had spread to many segments of business. (Groton and Haapio 2007)
The value of such tools should have been widely appreciated, for they exemplify time-honored “best practices” that have become legend: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” “A stitch in time saves nine.” “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Yet it must be admitted that in the decade since that original article, there has been less to show as new development in this area than we would have liked. There has also been recent evidence, particularly in the financial industry in its conduct before and since the 2008 financial crisis, that some elements in business and government—and even in the dispute resolution professions—see it as antithetical to their interests for conflict to be handled, as we might put it simply, better and less expensively. [NDR: Nolan-Haley, Agents]
We believe the time is now ripe for industrial, commercial and other relationships to benefit from demonstrated successful experience with these tools. This chapter will illustrate how existing tools for conflict anticipation and management can be used in a wider variety of business and public service contexts, and then advocate how dispute professionals can adjust their thinking and practices to advance a new “anticipation and prevention movement.”
There are three principal classes of tools that are being used to anticipate and prevent conflict: tools for Problem Prevention, Problem Solving, and Dispute De-escalation and “Real Time” Resolution. They are most effective if they are mutually agreed upon by contracting parties before any conflicts or disputes have arisen....
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