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Back to the Basics: What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

Yvette WatsonADR is a method of resolving disputes without going through the litigation process. Litigation can become costly and very time consuming. Litigation has a negative connotation and can be a result of permanently damaging friendships or partnerships, ruined reputations, and even financial catastrophes. ADR has been around for decades and the processes are used to resolve conflicts in a more cost effective and timely manner. The advantages of using ADR processes to resolve disputes can be:

• Cost effective
• Time Saving
• Participant’s control in an ADR process
• Creative outcomes save relationships
• Confidential

While there are several ADR processes this post will only discuss arbitration, mediation, and negotiation. Some of these processes involve a neutral-third party’s assistance in resolving a dispute whereas others rely on the parties themselves.

Arbitration involves two sides presenting their dispute to a neutral third party (arbitrator) who decides the final outcome. If the parties agreed to a binding arbitration the arbiters ruling is final with little to no chance of an appeal. Arbitration is appropriate when the parties do not want to make the final decision themselves. Parties have little control of the process and relinquish decision-making to the arbitrator.

Mediation is a voluntary process by which a neutral third party (mediator) assists 2 or more individuals in discussing the issues and formulating a mutual agreement. The mediator is bound by confidentiality and leaves the decision-making in the hands of the disputants. Mediation is appropriate when parties want to preserve the relationship, reputation and want more control of the outcome and process.

Negotiation is a direct discussion between parties to resolve the dispute themselves. The discussion involves both parties bargaining for their needs and interests to achieve their goals. Depending on their approach, the outcome can either be a collaborative win-win outcome or a competitive win-lose situation

When ADR is/is not Appropriate?

Not all disputes can or should be resolved through ADR. It is my opinion that ADR is not an appropriate avenue for domestic violence or child endangerment disputes because of the severity of the cases. If not handled properly, these situations can result in violence, unequal distribution of power, or even death. These cases should be handled through the court system. ADR can be used if the parties want to retain their current relationship, trust between the parties is low, a new perspective is needed, etc. Not sure if your case is ADR appropriate check out FERC.gov – Is ADR Appropriate for My Dispute?

Need Additional Information?

Refer to the Frequently Asked Questions section of the National Arbitration Forum website for arbitration and mediation. Beyond Intractability has a informative article on negotiation. As always, check out our Podcast Directory for episodes on mediation and arbitration at The Texas Conflict Coach.

By Yvette Watson Jenkins
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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