Is ‘negotiation’ the same as ‘dispute resolution?’

Dispute resolution is the process of resolving a conflict between parties. There are legally enforced methods of dispute resolution, such as litigation or arbitration, and there are consensual methods such as mediation. In some cases, the parties will reach a dispute resolution agreement, which is a legal agreement laying out the steps and timetable for solving the conflict.

According to the, negotiation is the “bargaining (give and take) process between two or more parties (each with its own aims, needs, and viewpoints) seeking to discover a common ground and reach an agreement to settle a matter of mutual concern or resolve a conflict.”

Dispute resolution is not negotiation nor is negotiation the same as dispute resolution. Simply put, negotiation is one of the tools available for dispute resolution. Negotiation is about reaching agreements, and if a dispute is holding up said agreement, clearly the negotiators need to find a way to resolve the dispute.

Business negotiations should not focus on dispute resolution. To succeed, business negotiations should be collaborative and all parties should be entering the negotiation with the intent of reaching a mutually agreeable deal. If there is a conflict or dispute beforehand, it is hard to see how the parties will work together collaboratively.

If the parties are negotiating a contract, and can’t resolve their differences through negotiation, then the may need to move to mediation or arbitration. Dr. Chester Karrass calls arbitration “a legitimate alternative in the negotiating kit of tools.” Thus, dispute resolution can also be seen as an alternative to negotiation.

How do you handle disputes? Have you successfully resolved a conflict through negotiation alone?

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