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Teaching Conflict Management Courses: Part 1


What follows are a few thoughts to prompt discussion among people involved in education in the field of conflict management. They are based on anecdotes and experience of the writer working in the DR field as a teacher, lawyer and mediator for several decades. The comments may not be accurate in your particular locality.

There is a “small” worldwide industry of teaching and learning skills, processes, attitudes and theories attached to “conflict management” and “dispute resolution” (once referred to as “ADR” but definitely no longer “alternative”, if it ever was). These educational industries have multiplied over the last 30 years probably in every country on the planet, for a variety of hypothesized reasons (eg Galanter, 2006).

This global educational activity is unlikely to abate, and is now supported by legislation, financial grants, competition, marketing, multiple journals, research projects, an expanding library of mainly unread educational DR books  (Honeyman, McAdoo and Welsh 2001), websites ( eg, nervous publicity averse and cost cutting managers in DR industries, habit ( “you should go to a course on—“), licensing rules in some jurisdictions, mandatory yearly education requirements, university departments seeking conformity or market uniqueness, popular and cost saving ideology of “problem-solving”, publicity for courses, and a continuing crisis for litigation systems being perceived to be inefficient, corrupt and/or being asked to do more for less.

Popular Course Labels and Tracks

The topics of “conflict management” and “dispute resolution” are subdivided in North America and copycat countries into ever-popular basic 5 day “mediation” and “negotiation” courses (why not six days? Or seven? In parts of Europe these courses are 600 hours; Alexander 2006). These basics are then followed by a standard list of less attended courses such as “advanced” mediation; “advanced commercial” negotiation; cross cultural negotiation; conflict analysis; various forms of arbitration especially international (partly due to the corruption and inefficiency of so many national courts); ENE; interviewing; settlement advocacy; collaborative law; allegedly new ‘types” of mediation such as narrative, therapeutic, evaluative, and med-arb mediation; various forms of counseling (over 400 categories); preparation for negotiation and mediation; online negotiation and mediation; emotional awareness; marketing a DR practice; dispute system design; the “law” and risks related to negotiation and mediation; drafting; and common hurdles in problem solving.

Less attended follow up courses are also presented on particular areas of conflict, especially if that area has recently attracted government funds, or a legislative scheme.  For example, mediation or negotiation and disputes about banking; coal mining, farming debts, landlord-tenant, children, child welfare, child support; family separation, succession of property, franchises, aboriginal land claims, etc.

New topics are essential for marketing of DR education, and in a field discovering its multiple roots in various more traditional disciplines, and to capture a fashionable wave of funds and interest.

These conflict management courses are taught at different levels on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning goals—such as “understanding” high theory and  statistical research directions; aiming for basic competency in certain core skills and certain processes; rule analysis (law school courses sometimes retreat to rule analysis of confidentiality, deception, professional negligence and skills of advocacy as this is where teachers and students are most comfortable); encouraging awareness and curiosity; edutainment; and hybrids thereof  (Wade, 2009).

Social context for the “moderate”popularity of DR educational courses?

This activity in DR education should be placed in the context of various pressures for change, and patterns of change in countries such as Canada, USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand.  DR education is a predictable attempt to respond to the changes and patterns; and to predict what further changes may be coming.

Within many countries, here are some of the constant pressures to adjust the ways that conflicts are “managed” and “resolved”.


Cycles of Change in Litigation (“ Litigotiation”).

These pressures for change have particularly affected the formal court systems ( Galanter’s “litigotiation”) in Western countries, though some of these change are cyclical; and each country and even local district, is at a different place in the cycles of change.  Innovation in one district, may be completely unknown a mere hundred kilometers away in the same country. (“Is it mediation or meditation?” “Do you have mandatory mediation? Of course.”; “Do you have mandatory arbitration in X disputes?” “Never”—“oh we being doing it for years”; “Do you have restricted length judgments; and anger management diversion?” “ Say that again” etc )


Recurrent Themes in DR Industries

Within and without the litigotiation systems of Western countries, there are recurrent themes and debates in dispute resolution industries—-attached to schools, mines, banks, aboriginal land disputes, family separation, succession conflicts, employment and discrimination differences, and personal injury and stress claims. Here are some of those themes—


Questions to Consider in Preparation for the Next Article

  1.  From the “pressures for change” list above, circle those pressures which you have experienced most often.  Then write out any other pressure for change in the way conflict is managed which you have experienced.
  2. Circle the “DR themes Worldwide” which you are experiencing most frequently in the field of DR in which you work. Again, if possible, write out another theme which describes what is or maybe happening in your district.
  3. Write out what implications your answers above may have for “DR education”.

John Wade

John Wade is an Emeritus Professor of Law at Bond University and was a practicing lawyer in Australia until 2012. John is a nationally and internationally acclaimed expert in dispute resolution, legal education and family law. For the last 40 years he has taught at two Australian, three Canadian, one… MORE >

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