Resolving Disputes Through Interests, Rights, and Power Part Two

Determining Who is More Powerful

Disputes can also be resolved by one party, the coercer, forcing the coerced to do something the coercee would ordinary not do. Usually to get this to happen the coercer imposes unacceptable costs on the coercee or threatens to do so.

Acts of power usually take the form of aggressive attacks, physical or verbal, or sabotage, or withholding benefits that would normally stem from the relationship. Often this turns on who is less dependent, does the company need the miners work more or less than the miners need their pay?

How dependent one is revolves around how satisfactory the alternatives are for satisfying one's interests. The better the alternative, the less dependent. If the company can easily replace the striking miners, as President Reagan did the air traffic controllers, then the company is less dependent and more powerful. If there are many such jobs available so that the striking miners can easily find other employment, then they are less dependent and more powerful.

Power plays can take the form of insults, ridicule, or physical attacks, and, of course, war. Determining decisively who is more powerful more often occurs only after a destructive and costly power contest.

Even if there are objective measures such as access to greater resources, a bigger war chest, or willingness to take bigger risks, combatants will rarely see it in the same light because the combatants have different perceptions of their own and the other's power.

Which Approach is Best?

Resolutions based on interests or rights or power all produce different benefits and costs. It is useful to focus on four conditions in comparing them:

Transaction Costs- the time, money, and emotional energy expended in disputing, the resources consumed, wasted or destroyed; the opportunity costs lost. In the mine example the most obvious costs of the strike were economic.

Management payroll and operating costs still had to be paid even though no income was derived from mining. The striking workers lost wages. There could have also been opportunity costs that were lost due to the strike such as new contracts.

In families the costs often include time lost in arguing and threats that caused frustration, frayed nerves and tension headaches. Opportunity costs often consist of missed chances to do useful or needed tasks or to engage in more enjoyable activities.

Satisfaction with Outcomes is another way to evaluate different dispute resolution approaches. The miner could have been satisfied with the outcome of the strike, even though he didn't get new boots, because he was able to vent his frustration and take revenge.

Satisfaction depends on how completely the resolution satisfies the interests that caused a disputant to make or reject the original claim. Whether the disputant views the resolution as fair can also impact satisfaction. So that even if the resolution does not completely satisfy a disputant's interests, s/he can take satisfaction that it is fair.

Satisfaction is contingent on not only the perceived fairness of the result, but also on the perceived fairness of the resolution method. In turn perceptions about the fairness of the result turn on how much opportunity the disputant had to participate; how much control the disputant had in accepting or rejecting the agreement; and whether the disputant perceives that third party, if there was one, acted fairly.

Effect on Relationship - how the resolution effects the disputants long term relationship is another determinant. How the dispute was resolved can affect the disputants ability to work together in the future. Constant quarrels and threats of retaliation can undermine cooperation.

Recurrence - whether or not the resolution process produced a durable result is the final way in which resolutions are evaluated. This can take the form of a failure of the agreement and a resultant flair up of the dispute. Or more subtly, when the resolution fails to prevent the same dispute from occurring between one of the disputants and someone else, such as a disputant agrees not to bully one person but then continues to bully others.

For the rest of this article, please go to

Interests, Rights, and Power, Part One

Interests, Rights, and Power, Part Three

To learn more, you might want to read,

For more information about Alternative Dispute Resolution, click on any of the links below.

To learn more about other conflict resolution topics, click on any of the links below.

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