Losing Ground: Resolving Toxic Disputes

  • December 16, 2020
  • Matthew Gordon

When reaching an agreement, the ideal is a win-win scenario. At worst, everyone being no better nor worse off than before – a status quo ante bellum of a negotiation or a dispute – is often achievable. In many contexts, though, from a contentious collective bargaining agreement to a protracted child custody dispute, costs can pile up while benefits diminish.

In drastic cases, companies can enter plant shutdown situations, or individuals can face bankruptcy proceedings. These are among the most stressful disputes for parties.

How can an advocate or a mediator help parties avoid a potentially catastrophic lengthening of a toxic dispute?

Focus on the best possible outcome for you rather than the worst possible outcome for them.

Negotiating with the intention of hurting the other party, whether financially, emotionally or otherwise, rarely produces a result that will be satisfying. This is especially true of a representative negotiator; the more a lawyer’s bill ticks upward, the less money the client may have to reinvest into the business (or even his or her own personal finances). Find ways to quell the bleeding, if at all possible.

If the dispute is iterated (i.e. repeated or continuous), the parties will have to interact with each other again, and no one wants to interact with someone whose stated intention is to hurt them. If the dispute is non-iterated (i.e. a one-time dispute, typically between strangers such as an injured plaintiff and an insurance company), why expend energy to hurt someone who will soon be in your past?