Approaches to Dispute: The Big Five

Which is Right for You? It Depends

There are five basic methods for addressing disputes. Each has their benefits and challenges. Choosing which is right for you is not easy; problems can be complex, emotions high, communication murky, and relations strained. Some problems may require more than one approach. We help clients understand, choose, and apply the most appropriate to their situation.

Let’s take a look at the Five.


We’ve all done this. You need to talk to someone about a sensitive subject, but keep putting it off. That’s avoidance. In certain cases, avoidance is not a bad idea. Avoiding a dark alley at night is probably a good idea. Yet, rarely does avoiding a situation change it.  Disagreements, disputes, and problematic issues tend to develop more potency as they linger.


This is basically giving in to demands or requests. Much like avoidance, issues tend to linger and build after “giving in”. And like avoidance, it has its place. Example: A mugger with a gun to your head demanding your wallet. Probably best to give it. Again, though, the problematic issue goes unaddressed. 


In the above example, the mugger is Competing. This is a win-lose scenario in that at least one party believes the loss from one necessarily means the gain for another. Therefore, the goal is to win or make the other party lose. Sporting events are the obvious example. So, too, are presidential debates with the catch being that the issues tackled in a debate are rarely addressed, and never resolved. The focus is on winning, not solving problems


A common favorite in politics that, at face value, seems to aim at solving a problem. But Compromise is a lose-lose scenario. Lost in its ability to resolve disputes, the key factor in compromise that gets overlooked is that each party gives up something. The focus is on resolving the dispute not solving the problem. In politics, the game is to demand more than what you need because you know with Compromise you’ll have to give up something. Better to have extra, “fluff” demands to give up and keep your core demands.


The best of the five for solving problems. Parties agree to work together to solve a problem, drawing from the strengths of each. Even if the problem proves too difficult to overcome, other benefits from Collaboration emerge, including opening communication, developing positive relations, learning new skills, and building bridges. The biggest challenges to Collaboration are that it is difficult and voluntary; forcing it damages its effectiveness.