Defining the dispute

I was recently asked my opinion on a dispute between members of a local association, who were unhappy about past committee decisions; and the association’s current committee members. As I asked questions about the dispute – how it arose, what they wanted to achieve from the mediation process, and who would participate – it became clear that the committee members had not turned their minds to these questions. They had gone from “there is a dispute” to “let’s go to mediation”.

While I encourage people to consider mediation early in the dispute resolution process, it is often helpful to step back and look at the overall picture.

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Image by Domiriel

I recommend asking the following questions to help define the dispute:

  • What is the issue in dispute? What are the problems to be resolved? Try to focus on actions, behaviours and outcomes rather than on people and personalities.
  • How does the issue/dispute affect me, my family, or my business? Try to think of tangible, measurable ways in which the issue or dispute impacts you.
  • How would I like the issue or dispute to be resolved? Try to think of at least 2 or 3 options. Imagine how they might play out. What events, actions or outcomes would show that the resolution has been successful?
  • Who needs to participate in the negotiation? Who has the authority to agree to the resolution I am seeking?

Once you have a clear picture of the nature and extent of the dispute, you can consider which alternative dispute resolution method is best suited to your particular circumstances. You might start with a private conversation, a formal negotiation, a facilitated conversation or formal mediation.

Whichever process you choose, it is important to work with your mediator or facilitator to tailor the process to your needs, and the needs of the other parties who may well have a very different on the nature and extent of the dispute.

Not sure what dispute resolution process is the best fit? Call me for an obligation free, confidential chat.



  1. […] dispute resolutions options offered by government and community services, but finding time to first define the dispute, then research alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options, track down the right person’s phone […]

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