Dispute Resolution: 6 tips for conflict management

Living in a strata community title scheme is a wonderful thing as you have a ready-made community yet it is not always rosy as when issues arise they can turn a previously friendly community into a nightmare. Much of my work as a strata lawyer is to help schemes resolve internal disputes. Flowing from this work are some suggestions for day to day conflict or dispute management.

  1. Play the ball not the person. By this I mean try to keep the issue from becoming personalised any more than it already is.  Try not to judge the other person or label them. Labelling people encourages both yourself and others to see that person as one dimensional and to not look further when they may have relatable reasons for their actions. For instance, a person who is always querying finances and decisions may have been burnt in a previous scheme and is trying to ensure they understand this schemes financial situation.
  2. Try to dig deeper into the problem. Surface issues often disguise real interests which are often the actual cause of the dispute and if the cause of the dispute is not resolved the conflict may reoccur.  Take for instance, Committee Member A who has stopped coming to the committee meetings leading to Committee Member B feeling overburdened and resentful. Unbeknownst to Committee Member A, Committee Member B changed jobs and their new hours mean they can no longer attend 4pm meetings on site. By asking questions the underlying interests may become clearer.  Opting to have electronic meetings at lunchtime or before or after work could solve the problem. If we do not ask we will likely never know.
  3. Be respectful both in person, in your correspondence and when discussing the dispute with others such as your scheme’s manager. This is only courteous and follows the principle of treating others like you would like to be treated. Secondly, it can assist in preventing the dispute widening or intensifying. For instance, if you tell Person A that Person B is id one loaf short of a dozen, you are intentionally or not influencing in a negative way how person A views and interacts with Person B in the future. If Person B overhears the comment, they are likely to be embarrassed and angry which can lead to retaliatory comments. Instead, you could say something along the lines of you Person A has taken a certain action and you cannot understand their reasons. Thirdly, you never know who will overhear your comments or who will see your correspondence and how they will use it.
  4. Try not to let your emotions drive your actions. A tip from sewing – measure twice and cut once – is apt. The point is to consider the situation and your responses before acting. While you may be angry at a comment will snapping back at the other person or calling them names serve your best interests in the long term? You may let off steam, but will it help resolve the problem or just entrench the other person’s view?
  5. Be open to possibilities. You may be given an option that you have never before thought about, instead of rejecting it because of who suggested it, consider whether it could meet your needs as is or if it was adapted.
  6. Know your interests and evaluate your options. Part of this is knowing what your interests are so that you can assess the available options to see what would best meet your needs. You may also consider asking a friend, a respected colleague or a professional for their advice. If the dispute is long running, then take time out every now and again to evaluate your interests and options as they may change.

These points are hard however, by following them you can minimise conflict and work on turning it around into a productive relationship. Above all, what I advocate is to act constructively to try to learn from and build relationships so that while you may not be close friends, a working relationship and a civil community can be established.

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