Human beings are incredibly complex animals, and no matter how ‘evolved’ we are, there are some things that we struggle with. Since the dawn of time we have fought each other, over large and small matters. Conflict is possibly the most challenging aspect of human life and while we may not always accept it – obtaining help to resolve conflict is incredibly worthwhile.

“Conflict is very often taken personally and sometimes generates its own impetus through negative energy and trying to ‘win’, despite the costs.”

A short time ago I was discussing a conflict situation with a business owner, regarding non-payment for work he had done for a client and a number of issues that they could not agree on. They were at an impasse, and there was no hope of resolution. He said he had tried everything and nothing was working.

The cost of conflict isn’t always about money or time – it’s also about the unnecessary stress, heightened emotions, anger, indignation and lost sleep. Conflict is very often taken personally and sometimes generates its own impetus, through negative energy and trying to ‘win’, despite the costs. People can get caught up in conflict and lose perspective and a real sense of the value of the fight.

” . . . the Disputes Tribunal is an excellent avenue to allow a professional referee to create closure and resolve issues that may have dragged on for years.”

Fortunately there are mechanisms in place to resolve contentious issues – as consumers, as businesses, as two parties that just cannot agree and move on.

In New Zealand, the Disputes Tribunal, which replaced the Small Claims Court in 1988, exists to create a forum where two parties can be a heard and a referee can supply a resolution. With a time frame of matters within the past six years and a monetary limit of $15,000 (or up to $20,000 if both parties agree), the Disputes Tribunal is an excellent option to allow a professional referee to create closure and resolve issues that may have dragged on for years.

“The Tribunal is meant to break down the rigid formula of a court and create an atmosphere conducive to one thing – resolution.”

As the business owner I spoke to admitted, he just wanted the issues sorted out so he and his client could come to agreement and move on. That’s the real point of the Disputes Tribunal – to allow someone else to look at the problems and supply a perspective that can be accommodating to both parties, when all previous efforts have failed.

Some of the features that define the Disputes Tribunal make it more appealing to those who might be wary of a formal court setting. The referee is not a judge – there are no lawyers, hearings are not open to members of the public or the media. Witnesses may be called but the setting of the Tribunal is far less intimidating and formal than a court. The Tribunal is meant to break down the rigid formula of a court and create an atmosphere conducive to one thing – resolution.

Referees in the Disputes Tribunal can make a number of orders that are enforceable by the courts. These include:

·  Someone must pay someone else a certain amount of money

·  Someone does not have to pay someone else money

·  Work must be done

·  An agreement must be changed or cancelled

·  Someone must hand over some goods to someone else

·  The claim be dismissed.

Of course, it is far better to reach prior agreement to resolve an issue, and the Tribunal recommends using it as a last resort when accommodation cannot be reached.

While it is not free, costs are far from prohibitive and are set depending on the amount of money in dispute:

  • Under $2000 – $45
  • $2000 to $4999 – $90.
  • $5000 to $20,000 – $180.
“If, after time, it is clear that an impasse is in place, then it makes perfect sense to get professional help, resolve the situation, and move on.”

I have spoken to so many consumers and business owners who have dealt with disagreements and disputes in different ways. Some have charged off like wounded bulls, hell bent on creating mayhem to satisfy their sense of righteous indignation. Others are lost in the blame; some find it very difficult to hear any other point of view, except their own. Some are more measured and realise nothing can be achieved satisfactorily, while the green mist descends.

It is important to remember that often a little bit of time and a cooling off period may help gain a better sense of how to deal with a difficult and challenging conflict situation. If, after time, it is clear that an impasse is in place, then it makes perfect sense to get professional help, resolve the situation, and move on. The adage that life is too short, really is true and it is a waste of time, effort, energy and emotional investment to let a conflict simmer away, well beyond its sell-by-date.

To find out more about the Disputes Tribunal and how to make a claim – go here.