Corporate Perspectives on Business Conflict Management
I had the honour of participating in a panel presentation on “Corporate Perspectives on Business Conflict Management” to the International Bar Association Conference in Vancouver on October 5, 2010. This panel was chaired by F Peter Phillips of Business Conflict Management LLC, Montclair, New Jersey, USA and Jane Player of Bird & Bird LLP, London, England. The panel also included presentations by Roland Schroeder, Senior Counsel Litigation and Legal Policy, General Electric Company, Fairfield Connecticut, David H. Burt, Corporate Counsel, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, David Talbot of Coca-Cola Enterprises of Boise Idaho, Albert Hilber of Swiss Reinsurance America Corporation, Armonk New York, and Patrick Green of Henderson Chambers and Resolex, of London, U.K.
The focus of most of the submissions on the panel was on techniques for the management of disputes in order to achieve economic savings. It was generally noted that the adoption of such dispute management programs also helped improve key business relationships and thus, the reputation and trust in the business enterprise. A striking example of efficiency was illustrated in the presentation of Patrick Green. He spoke of the U.K. company that he founded, Resolex which provides a project dispute management service which, for example, on a construction project would resolve disputes as they arise in “real time.”
My remarks were entitled “Dealing with Disputes: from Litigation Management to Dispute Management to Relationship Management”. The presentations on behalf of leading companies such as those represented on the panel reflected these shifts in emphasis. Without exception, the speakers maintained that their companies had moved far beyond the management of litigation in their approach to disputes, although that remains an important aspect of their professional responsibilities. Current practices generally focus on dispute management, i.e. to the careful handling of disputes with a view to optimizing the outcomes of those disputes with a view to minimizing unnecessary waste of time, and money.
Best practices integrate yet a further dimension of analysis, i.e. how to best manage the key relationships of the business with a view to strengthening those relationships, developing mutual trust, and thus, creating an environment where disputes are worked out as part of the business relationship before they get ugly and turn into costly, time-consuming conflicts. At the conference, I urged open recognition and express careful handling of the emotional component of disputes and in the improvement of those relationships based on adherence to core values of mutual respect, truth and integrity.