Conflict Resolution in the Workplace: What Will the Future Bring?

Date01 July 2014
Published date01 July 2014
C R Q, vol. 31, no. 4, Summer 2014 357
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21104
Con ict Resolution in the Workplace:
What Will the Future Bring?
David Brubaker
Cinnie Noble
Richard Fincher
Susan Kee-Young Park
Sharon Press
Collaborative processes to resolve confl ict in the workplace have perme-
ated organizations in North America over the past thirty years. Media-
tion and arbitration processes made the earliest inroads in organizations,
joined more recently by confl ict coaching and organizational ombudsr y.
Concurrently, law schools and other graduate schools expanded their
alternative dispute resolution (ADR) off erings and confl ict resolution
programs.  is article charts the trends in workplace confl ict manage-
ment and ADR education and proposes where the fi eld may be heading
in the coming years.  e authors note growing demand for workplace
mediation, coaching, and ombuds offi ces, and they call for broader
adoption of integrated confl ict management systems.
Collaborative processes to manage and resolve confl ict in the workplace,
such as confl ict coaching and mediation, have permeated organiza-
tions in North America and beyond over the past thirty years. In all three
organizational sectors (for-profi t, nonprofi t, and governmental), leaders
have experimented with internal and external mechanisms to reduce the
relational and fi nancial costs of unresolved confl ict. Many larger organiza-
tions, particularly corporations, governments, and universities, have incor-
porated the role of organizational ombudsman to assist organizational
members in choosing and pursuing one or more of the confl ict manage-
ment options that were becoming available. Concurrently, confl ict scholars
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
and practitioners encouraged the development of integrated confl ict man-
agement systems to combine interest-based, rights-based, and power-based
confl ict resolution options in one ideally seamless system (Constantino
and Merchant 1996; Lipsky, Seeber, and Fincher 2003; Ury, Brett, and
Goldberg 1988).1
As organizations and communities adopted interest-based approaches
to resolve and manage confl ict, law schools and other graduate programs
expanded their off erings to meet the perceived growing demand for prac-
titioners. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) courses and programs
proliferated in law schools as graduate programs in confl ict analysis and
resolution mushroomed in most American states and Canadian provinces.
According to Brian Polkinghorn (pers. comm., 2014) of the Center for
Confl ict Resolution at Salisbury (Maryland) University, there are now
more than 115 university-based graduate programs in the United States
and Canada that grant degrees in peace studies, confl ict resolution, or
But as workplace confl ict resolution processes and university-based
confl ict studies programs have ballooned over the past generation, many
wonder where the fi eld is headed next. At the October 2013 Association
for Confl ict Resolution (ACR) Conference in Minneapolis, practitioners
gathered to “look into the crystal ball of workplace ADR.” Following the
presentation, Confl ict Resolution Quarterly editor Susan Raines proposed an
article summarizing trends that are emerging in four critical areas: confl ict
coaching, mediation and arbitration, organizational ombudsry, and gradu-
ate education (particularly in law schools).  ree panel members—Cinnie
Noble, an internationally known leader in the confl ict coaching fi eld; Rich-
ard Fincher, an experienced labor mediator and arbitrator based in Phoenix;
and Sharon Press, a professor of law at Hamline University—contributed
to this article. Another participant in the mini-plenary, Susan Kee-Young
Park, an experienced organizational ombudsperson, was invited to be the
fourth contributor. I (David Brubaker, associate professor of organizational
studies at Eastern Mennonite University) compiled the article.
All four contributors are highly experienced practitioners in their
respective fi elds. Two of them (Park and Press) work for large universities,
and the other two (Noble and Fincher) are successful independent prac-
titioners. Following are the substantive sections from these contributors
addressing their respective areas of practice and how they envision their
discipline intersecting with workplace confl ict resolution in the foresee-
able future. In the concluding section, I off er a brief summary of each

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