Conflict Resolution And Understanding The Cost Of Conflict (Ezine Article)

By John Bartels | Submitted On March 13, 2007

Understanding the cost of conflict is a major factor in persuading contesting parties to attempt conflict resolution and turn their conflict into collaboration.

Stewart Levine in his excellent book “Getting to Resolution – Turning Conflict into Resolution” identifies four costs of conflict:

1. Direct costs

2. Productivity costs

3. Continuity costs

4. Emotional costs

Whenever you get bogged down in an unresolved conflict, all four of these costs begin to mount. The conflict meter starts running. This is often not fully appreciated by parties to a dispute – especially in the early stages when monetary consequences seem the only concern.

However as the conflict takes hold, all four costs begin to take their toll.

It is a wise conflict resolution facilitator who makes sure that the parties to the dispute fully understand that all four costs are running as this helps them see the mutual advantage of collaborating and getting resolution.

So, what are these four costs all about?

1. Direct costs

These are the costs you pay professionals to assist you resolving the conflict.

They include payments to lawyers to represent you in court. Legal costs are very high and often very difficult to estimate at the start of a court case. The problem is that as the case progresses the legal costs grow and grow. Eventually your attitude may be “in for a penny, in for a pound”.

This does not mean that sometimes it is absolutely necessary to be represented by good lawyers even if the financial cost is high. However, remember good legal representation can be expensive. Most times what you pay for, you get.

It sounds fine to say: “Don’t speak to me, speak to my lawyer”. Understand that this route can come with a heavy price tag.

Also included are payments to expert witnesses such as engineers in engineering cases. Again, this kind of expert evidence does not come cheap and at the same time may be essential.

The most economical solution to high legal costs is not to incur them!

Rather make every effort to get to resolution before the start of a court case.

If you have to go to court, find out from the lawyer in advance how the legal costs will work.

You may choose mediation. This could also be expensive as you might need representation and the mediator may also have to be paid.

2. Productivity costs

Court cases immediately result in a loss of productivity as you and your witnesses spend hours working with your lawyers on the case. If you are self-employed or have your own business this means you lose income. When you are not working you are not producing. It is as simple as that. Be aware that some serious court cases take years to finalize because of the right of appeal.

A drop in productivity can also mean a loss of business opportunities. This could mean that you lose your hard won share of the market.

Court cases are not the only cause of productivity costs. Serious inter-personal conflict immediately starts productivity costs running. It is very difficult to work productively if you are constantly thinking about the person who has wronged you.

3. Continuity costs

“No man is an island”. This applies to all of us.

You are a member of imperfect teams in an imperfect world running with imperfect deals. What is important is that the teams continue to function. Nothing leads more quickly to team dysfunction than deep-seated interpersonal conflict among the team members. The longer interpersonal conflict continues, the more entrenched it becomes. Someone’s goodwill may be damaged.

If team conflict is unresolved, eventually team members break from the team and team continuity is broken. This leads to a loss of continuity. New team members have to be found. The spirit of the team has to be built afresh.

In a real sense the business community within which you work is a team as well. If you are embroiled in an unresolved business row, the continuity of your relationship with part of the community is adversely affected – especially in a small town.

4. Emotional costs

The emotional costs of unresolved conflict are a by-product of the three above costs. Unresolved conflict can lead to great unhappiness. Many acrimonious divorces are testimony to this. Consider also family feuds where family members don’t speak to each other for years. The cost of emotional conflict cannot be measured. This is why reconciliation after resolution is often profound.

Are you involved in an unresolved conflict? Are you secretly saying: “Revenge is best taken cold”? Are you suffering the direct, productivity, continuity and emotional costs of unresolved conflict? Don’t be surprised if you are. It goes with the territory of unresolved conflict.

It’s time you and your adversary learnt how to turn your conflict into collaboration. You both need to get to resolution.

But how?

An important place to start is to understand the power of shared vision. This will be the subject of a future article.

Article Information

John Bartels is a retired lawyer living in Port Elizabeth. He is married with four children. He has had a lifelong interest in conflict resolution and turning conflict into collaboration. He believes that it is possible to facilitate conflict resolution economically online. His site for online conflict resolution is:

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