Bar News - October 18, 2017
Alternative Dispute Resolution: Conflict Management and Litigation Avoidance Tips for Attorneys
By: Kat Marquis
Conflict cannot be completely avoided, but it can be mitigated. It is how we handle the conflict that matters. Lawyers know that conflict, whether in your personal or professional life, is costly in terms of time, money, energy and stress. Knowing how to prevent, manage, and resolve disputes makes for a better practitioner and a more peaceful, prosperous practice.
Attorneys with sharp conflict-resolution skills can press the reset button before heated encounters escalate. Knowing when to call a professional mediator to resolve conflict can also help end a war before it begins.
Conflict Resolution Tips & Techniques for Lawyers
- People are not against you, they are just for themselves. Once you realize this and do not take the conflict personally, you can separate the person from the problem. That way, you can be hard on the problem, not the person. Sometimes people can act their worst when they feel powerless.
- Ninety percent of ending conflict is in the approach. There are two ways to put down a plane – a crash landing or a smooth landing. Legal professionals who take time to “respond” and not “react” to a dispute, are more likely to come up with smooth approaches to conflict with new insights, new clarity and new ideas. Your approach and delivery can mean the difference between rejection and consideration of your position. You don’t have to flex your muscles to impose strength. The way a dispute is approached can have a huge impact on its outcome.
- Change the frame, change the game. You can refocus the fight and understand that the other person is not your adversary, but rather your partner in resolving the problem. When you reframe conversations to working together as problem-solvers, you dramatically increase your chances of resolution. After all, you gain more from agreement than disagreement, and preserving personal and professional relationships is paramount.
- Focus on the fix, NOT the fight. Rehashing the past can often make conflict worse. Social scientific research shows that future orientation dramatically increases your rate of resolution. When you engage the other party and focus on problem-solving with future orientation, not only are you more likely to resolve your dispute, but you increase the rate of compliance with a sustainable solution on which you agree.
- Keep calm and call the mediator. A skilled, professional mediator can help resolve disputes quickly, inexpensively, efficiently, effectively, confidentially, and with mutually satisfactory results. Calling in a skilled mediator early in the process can help stop sparks before they turn into flames.
With the right training, education, and resources, attorneys can reduce the high cost of conflict by changing the way they manage it. Decreasing discord and resolving legal problems, short of court intervention, results in increased client satisfaction, client retention, and attracting new business. Litigation avoidance is a great skill to master, even for master litigators.
Kathleen (Kat) Marquis is an attorney, mediator, and principal of Marquis Mediation. She teaches conflict resolution and core mediation skills training classes for attorneys, managers and executives. She can be reached by email.