JIS News

Conflict is a fact of life and in many cases, inevitable. Every day people are faced with problems or disagreements with family members, friends, colleagues and even strangers. The challenge, according to Donna Parchment, Chief Executive Officer of the Dispute Resolution Foundation (DRF), is how one handles conflict. She is of the belief that a person’s “mental model” impacts on his/her ability to resolve conflict.
Explaining, she says that, “if I have high self-esteem or self-respect, a knowledge of who I am, confidence in myself, a measure of humility, a sense that others can contribute value to me, and I have an obligation to contribute value to others, then the way I handle a conflict is going to be different from a person who feels that everybody is against them, there is no hope for them and they always have to be fighting.”
Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Howard Cooke, has declared 2004 the Year of Dispute Resolution, and in so doing, urged Jamaicans to strive for peace, justice and harmony. This is no easy task, but as the Executive Director for the DRF points out, the Foundation is committed to working with all sectors to ensure that this message permeates the society and is working on educating the public, “one of the things we think is important is that we infuse the competencies we have in other organisations to create an improved fabric of society,” says Miss Parchment.
She points out that some conflicts can be easily resolved but often, the negative ways in which persons respond to situations cause minor strife to escalate into major conflicts, which may take a lot of time to resolve and lead to great stress. Oftentimes, these conflicts create resentment within the family and reduce personal and professional relationships. They may even lead to court cases.
Most conflicts are caused by misunderstandings that result from poor communication skills or develop when different personalities or behaviours collide.
The DRF, in its work, highlights the importance of persons respecting each other, which simply means having regard for others and seeing things from their viewpoint. “Quite often, in a lot of the conflicts we see people coming with, is that people feel that they have been ‘dissed’, slighted, not seen, not recognised, not valued. And you would be surprised how many of the conflicts we see relate to communication issues and the nature of communication says that if you value me, you would not have handled me that way,” Miss Parchment tells JIS News.
She says that some of the key elements critical to resolving conflicts are effective communication and mutual respect. By improving communication and problem solving skills, people can learn how to create effective solutions out of stressful situations.
“It is important for people to appreciate that everyone, regardless of age, size or class, is entitled to be heard because they may have a valuable contribution to make,” she points out. “We think that the very best method of resolving interpersonal conflict.is a state of mind which says ‘I am problem-solving. I am a listener. I will contribute as many words as are necessary to move the problem along’ and only when that fails will I turn to somebody to tell me what the answer is,” she continues.
Pointing to ways in which persons can resolve conflicts, Miss Parchment says that these can range from personal reflection and counselling to the extent of a judge-made decision. “And, somewhere along that line we can use restorative justice, expert opinion, dialogue, negotiation, arbitration, mediation and a variety of other techniques,” she informs.
In terms of the negotiation route, Miss Parchment explains that persons in conflict can get together and discuss the issue with a view to arriving at a consensus. This process does not require a third party and is a technique employed in everyday life. In fact, the individuals involved need only have dialogue to try to resolve the issue.
“The two people having the problem, or the two companies having the problem…must be able to say ‘look, let’s take a deep breath, let’s see if we can talk about what’s happening here. Do we need to take a little time to calm down and we can come back and talk about it?’ ” she says.
Effective negotiation skills can be learned through reading. Sometimes, though, counselling is required before any negotiation can take place and either party may also prefer to hire a lawyer, advocate, counsellor or other person with the expertise to help in the negotiation process or who can negotiate on their behalf.
Where negotiation has not been successful, mediation can be considered. In mediation, the affected persons talk to a third party who can often help to ease tension and encourage both parties to talk and listen to one another.
“What mediation does, is allow people to meet with a trained neutral facilitator, who is unbiased, to help them air that [concern] and move forward,” Miss Parchment notes. The mediator can help the parties find a solution that can often result in a “win-win” situation, where everyone is satisfied with the result.
“We can vent what’s on our minds. We can hear what the other person is saying; we can come up with creative solutions that may not be prescribed in any law or practice but which suits us and then we can agree by signing on the dotted line that this is what we are going to go,” Miss Parchment explains.
If the dispute is already filed in court, the decision taken through mediation then becomes a judgement of the court. If it was not filed in court, however, it becomes a confidential contract between the parties involved, which is shared only if both parties agree.
When people in a dispute cannot resolve the conflict themselves, whether through face-to-face negotiation or with the assistance of a mediator, they may agree to refer the matter to arbitration. The arbitration process is confidential and a neutral person or panel, usually chosen by both parties, hears the facts and sequence of events and makes a decision.
Arbitrators are often people who are experts in a specific area of the law or a particular industry, especially in cases where the decision-maker needs to be knowledgeable about a particular subject matter or business practice.
Arbitration tends to be less formal and quicker than going to court. The parties can agree in advance on the ground rules for the arbitration (as opposed to court procedures which are fixed). One or both parties may have a representative speak for them at the arbitration hearing or they may speak for themselves.
The arbitrator then makes a decision based on the facts, any contract between the people, and the applicable laws. The arbitrator will explain how the decision was reached. If the applicable law allows, persons can decide in advance whether the arbitrator’s decision will be final and binding, or whether it should be subject to review by a court if a party disagrees with the decision.
The arbitrator may also make a decision on costs. Depending on how complex the case is and how long it takes to resolve, arbitration usually cost less than going to trial.
Restorative justice is a growing philosophy in dispute resolution, which hinges on the recognition that the criminal justice system focuses on the law that is broken, and not on harm done. “If you are a victim of a criminal offence and go to court, the court is concerned about identifying who the wrongdoer is and punishing that wrongdoer and you the victim, are merely a witness in the case,” Miss Parchment points out.
Restorative justice therefore focuses on victim-offender mediation schemes and on repairing the harm caused by a crime, by holding moderated meetings of crime victims, offenders, and others affected by crime, either having all parties meeting face-to-face or using a proxy in place of the actual victim. This type of dispute resolution is also used in the handling of family welfare and child protection matters, and in workplace disputes.
“We have done a lot of cases with victims and offenders where, when they have talked together here, they have understood the issue very differently,” Miss Parchment points out.

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