|Issue No 62||14 July 2000|
David Moore on Transforming Justice
An approach to handling conflict that has led to community conferencing in the justice system is now being adpated to the workplace.
Transformative Justice Australia (TJA) is a Sydney-based company dealing with conflict in workplaces and other communities. TJA's work is based on an approach called "conflict transformation." TJA apply conflict transformation in workplaces, most notably through a process called "workplace conferencing." Workplace conferencing represents an alternative to traditional approaches.
It is generally assumed that, when faced with disputes and conflict, we need to choose the right process from a spectrum that runs from negotiation, through mediation, conciliation, and arbitration to adjudication. But in many situations, the ideal process doesn't fit on this spectrum.
To explain why, we have to distinguish disputes from conflict. Although they often occur together, disputes and conflict are different phenomena. Disputes tend to be about specific contested facts. Conflict tends to be general and defined by negative feelings. Every process on the spectrum from negotiation to adjudication is a dispute resolution process, but these dispute resolution processes differ in the way the handle conflict.
For instance, an adjudicator considers arguments from both sides, imposes a judgement, and the dispute is declared resolved. But dispute resolution by litigation has many costs. It is expensive, it is time-consuming, and a damaging side-effect of emphasising differences between disputants is to maximise the conflict between them.
"Alternative Dispute Resolution" (ADR) has emerged in response to these problems. But the term ADR is confusing, since it has come to have two distinct meanings. As a general category, ADR refers to non-adversarial processes. But ADR can refer to one specific non-adversarial process, also called "interest-based mediation." Mediation seeks to:
· separate the people from the problem;
· focus on interests, not positions;
· invent options for mutual gain;
· insist on the use of objective criteria.
If disputants agree to disagree, a mediator can follow these rules. The rules help minimise the conflict while the disputants search for common ground. But disputants will sometimes not even agree to disagree. They will simply disagree. And when people cannot agree to disagree, their primary problem is not a dispute; it is conflict. By definition, people in conflict tend to:
· identify the other people as the problem;
· cling tenaciously to their own positions;
· see no possibility of mutual gain, feeling they can only win if the others lose.
Accordingly, mediation is not appropriate when people are in conflict. Indeed, mediation can sometimes make matters worse. Its focus on clarifying the facts can purify the fuel for the fire of conflict. This danger is most acute in cases where:
· conflict is the result of some undisputed harm,
· there is no specific dispute between individuals, but conflict between groups to which they belong, or
· there are many disputes, most of which are merely symptoms of the conflict.
For these situations, a third option is required. People in conflict are usually not helped by maximising the conflict, yet nothing is solved by minimising it. Instead, before people in conflict can negotiate constructively, they require a process to acknowledge and transform the conflict. Workplace conferencing is designed to achieve this end. The process provides a structured sequence within which participants gradually can shift their focus from the past, to the present, to the future. As they do so, they shift their emotional state from conflict to cooperation. Then they can negotiate.
TJA Directors David B. Moore and John M. McDonald have just summarised their work in a book, Transforming Conflict in workplaces and other communities. The book introduces the theory and practice of workplace conferencing, which has now been used in Australian workplaces ranging from mining, steelmaking and construction, through transport, commerce, communications and information technology, to education, justice, the military, health, and faith communities.
The techniques involved may be complex, but the essential idea of conflict transformation is simple. And the workplace conference process developed by TJA is now gaining international recognition as an exemplary process for conflict transformation. The success of this approach is such that, over the last few years, David and John have been invited to establish conferencing programs in Canada, the United States and Scandinavia.
Transforming Conflict can be ordered through the TJA webnsite (click below) for Aus$ 32 (inc. gst + postage and handling).
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