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Enhancing the capacity of organizations to deal with disputes


Conflict is a pervasive fact of organizational life. Enhancing members' capacities to understand their disputes in new ways, to feel free to express differences and know they will be heard, and to have multiple channels available makes for more humane and, perhaps, more productive organizations. While unlikely to reduce the frequency of disputes in organizations, dispute systems, if broadly construed, can contribute directly and indirectly to this end.

In designing these systems, however, we need to attend to the informal, behind-the-scenes, interstitial and nourishing forms of disputing. These interactions are often unnoticed and devalued in organizations. However, from a fuller appreciation of informal and formal modes of conflict management and the interplay between them comes the potential for enhancing the capacity of organizations to deal with differences and diversity. This—not prevention—is the real service which dispute interventionists can offer.

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Additional information

Editor's Note: In alternating issues,Negotiation Journal features a regular column on the subject of “dispute systems design,” a concept initially proposed by William L. Ury, Jeanne M. Brett and Stephen B. Goldberg in their 1988 book,Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict (San Francisco: Jossey Bass). Brett and Ury are serving as coordinators for this column, which is aimed at serving as a forum for the ongoing exchange of ideas about dispute systems design.

Deborah M. Kolb is Professor of Management at the Simmons College Graduate School of Management and Associate Director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, 513 Pound Hall, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Mass. 02138.Susan S. Silbey is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass. 02181.

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Kolb, D.M., Silbey, S.S. Enhancing the capacity of organizations to deal with disputes. Negot J 6, 297–304 (1990).

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  • Dispute Resolution
  • Conflict Management
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Negotiation Journal
  • Wellesley College