Dealing with disagreements, conflict and legal disputes

If you are a business, at some time you will reach disagreement with someone which may result in a legal dispute.

Conflict is inevitable in business life and it must be managed in a constructive manner.

Far too often disputes spiral out of control. Someone takes offence at comments made by another, an email stream starts and before you know it the lawyers have taken over and you are receiving very large monthly bills for something which seems to be going nowhere.

If you are engaged in any dispute, here are a few hints on how to deal with it in a constructive manner:

  1. Remember that behind the face of every person you meet there is a person trying to deal with troubles and struggles on a daily basis – just like you. At times this can cause a person to say something which they don’t really mean or which is said without any real basis. This can be very difficult to deal with but it is important not to let your emotions take over – you need to separate your own reactions from the other person’s behaviour – in other words, own yourself and keep in mind your own goals and values – don’t sabotage yourself! Quite often a successful and cost effective outcome is directly related to how long you can “put a sock in it” and deal with the other person in a humane, non judgemental  and direct manner – which leads onto the next point…
  2. Personal contact – face to face – is far more effective than email. It is impossible sometimes to discern the tone in an email and quite often innocent comments are misconstrued. Sending an email in the heat of the moment is commonplace. Put it aside for 24 hours before sending it and I will guarantee you the final version you will send out will be far different to the first version. The mere act of writing it out and putting it aside eliminates the emotional heat in most cases, enabling you to deal with the relationship in a more balanced manner… something occurs in the brain where the thing you have complained about doesn’t seem that major after you have written it down.
  3. Take personal responsibility for the dispute – don’t download it to a lawyer and leave it to him to deal with alone. Certainly that is an easy thing to do and takes away the initial pain of having to deal with the other party – but if you do this, be prepared for a loss of control over the negotiation process and also over the outcome and be prepared for large and very nasty legal bills as the legal system takes over.
  4. Insist on seeing every communication to be sent by the lawyer before it is sent and check it for appropriate tone. There is no point in sending an offensive letter from a lawyer and expecting the other party to simply cave into your demands. It just will not happen. Human nature is not like that. All it will do is escalate the dispute. The other person will respond in kind.  Don’t believe me? Try this short experiment. Raise your voice at someone. Watch what happens. The other person will, as a matter of reflex, raise their voice in return. The same thing happens with written communications. The only parties to benefit will be the lawyers. Sure you will feel good when you see a letter go out designed to cause shock and pain but in the very short term all that will do is rebound on you as you descend into a never ending negative spiral of tit for tat letter writing and affidavits. Take some control and do your best to break the cycle of negativity. At least then you will know that if you have not resolved your differences it will not be from a lack of effort on your part. And this can be very important when a Judge is trying to determine to whom costs are to be awarded at the end of a court case.
  5. If we are treating the other person in a way which we know deep down to be unreasonable we tend to justify our behaviour by unjustly criticising the other person. This may make us feel better about ourselves but it starts a cycle of crimination and recrimination. Recognise this in yourself. The best way to act if you know you have treated another unfairly is to apologise. That at least clears the slate internally. Then you don’t have to engage in questionable behaviours and make silly accusations to self justify.
  6. Try to determine how you have contributed to the dispute and what the other person may be feeling, thinking and wanting.
  7. If all your efforts to personally resolve a dispute have failed, then and only then use the services of a lawyer. Even then it is always helpful to never burn a bridge, to offer continually to negotiate with the other person and to use alternative dispute resolution procedures such as mediation, early neutral evaluation or collaboration. Don’t make the assumption that legal proceedings are the only way – ask your lawyer for alternatives.

If you have a legal problem or dispute and need help, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Peter Gell

Peter was admitted as a solicitor in 1981 and holds qualifications in law and a Masters degree in taxation conferred by the University of NSW. Peter practises in taxation advisory, estate planning and wills, probate and commercial law.