Resolving a dispute

Often the most costly part of resolving a dispute is the time spent dealing with it instead of running your business. Your dispute may be with a customer, supplier, business partner or employee. In each case how you manage the dispute may vary, however there are some key steps you can follow to handle the issue and retain good business relationships.

Tips to help you manage a dispute

  1. Compile your facts and evidence
    Document the key details of the dispute. This could include dates, times, product or service details, warranties, photographs, leases, agreements or contracts, and a summary of discussions.

    Put your documentation in date order and highlight the parts that are most relevant.

  2. Keep calm and remain objective
    Always remain calm, polite and professional in your spoken or written communications. Avoid abusive or emotional language, or laying blame.

    Try to understand the situation from the other party’s perspective.

  3. Think of creative solutions
    Look for a ‘win-win’ solution that restores your business relationship. Make a list of possible solutions to discuss with the other party – be realistic and prepared to negotiate.

    Consider how achieving a particular solution (or not achieving it) will impact on your business particularly in terms of time, money and future working relationships.

  4. Talk to the other party
    Contact the other party to negotiate a solution. Make sure the person you are talking to has the authority to settle the dispute. Sometimes minor issues can be handled with a phone call while other more complex matters are best dealt with face-to-face.

    Listen carefully to what the other party has to say and take notes. Don’t interrupt them while they are speaking, and when they have finished you should respond in a calm and non-threatening manner.

    If a solution is agreed to, make sure that you put it in writing and provide the other party with a copy.

  5. Formally write to the other party
    If talking doesn’t work, the next stage is to write a professional formal letter outlining your position. This provides another opportunity for the other party to resolve the dispute. It can also be used as evidence of your attempt to resolve the dispute if you need to use another means of resolution.

    The formal letter should outline the matters in dispute, the steps that have been taking to resolve the matter, the required solution and a timeframe for this to occur. You may also want to include some of your documentary evidence.

    Email or post the letter and keep a copy for your records.

    TIP: We have developed a sample letter of demand for recovering a debt and a letter of complaint for other matters. You can tailor it in relation to your dispute.

  6. Seek assistance
    If you are still unable to resolve the dispute after talking and writing to the other party you may need to seek assistance from a third party.

    Be very cautious about resorting to litigation. Consider using an alternative method to resolve the dispute such as negotiation and mediation. These services are usually cheaper and less stressful than going to court.

Alternative dispute resolution services

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services can include negotiation or guided resolution, mediation, conciliation or arbitration.

Type of ADR service

Description

Guided resolution or negotiation

Guided resolution is a process of negotiation that involves an independent third party who works with both parties to clarify the disputed issues, understand their rights and obligations, and identify possible options to resolve the matter.

Mediation

A voluntary, structured settlement procedure. A mediator is appointed to assist both parties to reach an amicable solution to their dispute. The mediator is not the decision maker, the disputing parties decide on the outcome.

Conciliation

Similar to mediation except a conciliator can provide both parties with a non-binding settlement proposal.

Arbitration

Arbitration usually consists of a tribunal that applies the law and makes a decision by administering an award that is final and binding.

 

Depending on the nature of your dispute, we may be able to provide guided resolution and mediation services to assist you. Find out more about the types of disputes we can assist with.

Go to court as a last resort

Taking a disputed matter to court can be an expensive and drawn-out process. You will need to consider the time, money and effort involved to make sure it is worth it. Before threatening legal action, get advice from a lawyer and consider all of your options.

More information