Settling Conflict Without Drawing Blood–Use Mediation




Do any of these quotes sound familiar to you? Litigation as a recourse for resolving disputes has been the standard practice for generations, but ask yourself, is it always the best way? I don’t know about you, but those statements above sound a lot like blanket threats to me—not very resolving at all. In fact, using litigation to prove who is right is no different than getting into a fist-fight with the person because they both create a win-lose outcome.

What’s wrong with win-lose? Doesn’t that solve the problem?

Well, litigation and fist-fighting both create a solution to settle a dispute by definitely naming one side the victor and the other side the loser. That might be all and well, except that it does not cover the underlying emotions and needs of both parties in the dispute. No one wants to be labeled as the villain in the matter and deep resentment, even revenge are often generated because of such a win-lose process. Think of two neighbors who are having a dispute about ownership of a tree. One party decides to sue the other party in small claims court and the judge awards the position of the winner and the loser. That might be fine if the other side is unwilling to cooperate in the matter, but there is an even greater emotional need that is not being met here. Both neighbors will have to leave the courtroom and go back to their respective homes and live next to each other for quite some time. Is drawing blood the best recourse for them to settle their dispute when they still have to maintain something of an ongoing relationship to one another? Probably not.

So how can a dispute be settled differently?

Litigation represents one avenue of dispute resolution—the last line of defense, if you will. In dealing with conflict, there is a force continuum that we should follow: effective communication, direct negotiation, mediation, and finally litigation. Too often, people decide to skip steps and go directly for the lethal force—the litigation, primarily because its what they know and have grown accustom to by television and media. Litigation is popular. The skipped step is mediation, which should be viewed as the bridge between negotiation and litigation. Mediation is where both parties come together along with a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator neither decides nor advises either party on their decisions, but rather helps unlock them from their positions so that a mutually-agreeable solution can be reached. Because both parties create and agree on the solution together, neither side feels the resentment or anger left experienced after a court decision. Mediation is voluntary, so both parties always retain their rights to proceed with litigation if they want, but they often find that collaboration is better than competition.

In my workshops, I teach that force against force merely proves who is stronger. It does very little to solve the underlying problems and meet the needs that are hidden underneath. Instead of working against the person, set aside the emotion and focus on solving the problem. Use direct negotiation techniques or mediation to aid you in reaching an amicable solution.

Tristan Loo is an experienced negotiator and an expert in conflict resolution. He is the author of Street Negotiation–How To Resolve Any Conflict Anytime. He uses his law enforcement experience to train others in the prinicples of defusing conflict and reaching agreements. Visit his website at or e-mail him directly at

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