The past few decades have seen explosive growth in the degree to which disputes that would previously have been litigated in court, or simply allowed to fester, are being dealt with constructively by other methods. The development of the field of conflict resolution and management, and of its sub-field, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which focus on understanding conflict and on developing processes to deal with it, has provided both the theoretical background and the practical applications needed to transform conflicts into opportunities for learning and building. These developments have greatly affected, inter alia, the way conflict is handled inside organizations and in the workplace. The intuitive understanding of conflict’s combined potential for good and evil in organizations and in long term relationships such as employment and labor relations resulted in these being some of the earliest focal points for ADR.a The task of managing workplace conflict is a day-to-day job of managers (Lax & Sebenius, 1987). Whether formally listed in the company’s organizational responsibility chart or not, the task of identifying and managing conflict is most often assigned to human resources experts. In the age of e-communication, new types and sources of organizational conflict are emerging (Landry, 2000) and organizational dispute resolution experts need to update their toolbox. As HRM makes the transition to e-HRM, traditional ADR is adopting new methods for coping with conflict through e-methods and processes. The technology and skills necessary for managing online mediation, arbitration, and negotiation processes are being developed and improved, and the new subfield of online dispute resolution (ODR) is rapidly taking form. The aim of this article is to introduce, in general, the field of ODR to the e-HRM community, and to elaborate on one process which is suitable for widespread use in e-HRM: that of online mediation. In addition, we will also suggest other potentialities of ODR for e-HRM, in the hopes that this discussion will be taken up and developed by others in both fields.
Perspectives On Odr
ODR’s practical and conceptual roots lie in the perspectives and preconceptions of various disciplines. One leading perspective influencing ODR is the ‘cyberspace perspective,’ which centers on the Internet and computers and the ways they have reshaped the world, the law, commerce, and conflict. This view stresses ODR as a prerequisite for effective e-commerce and, consequently, has focused its efforts on developing processes suitable for transaction-related disputes (Kaufmann-Kohler & Schultz, 2004; Rule, 2002). A second leading perspective is the ‘ADR perspective,’ which focuses on seeking methods for dispute resolution that do not involve litigation and that are specifically suited to the parties’ process- and outcome-related needs. This outlook leads to attempts to reconstruct the processes and methods of off-line negotiation, mediation, and arbitration online (Katsh & Rifkin, 2001; Kaufmann-Kohler & Schultz, 2004). Of course, these perspectives are also influenced by the conceptual fields each borrows from: IT and computer science, communications theory, social psychology, economics, and law.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Mediation: A voluntary process in which disputing parties invite a third party neutral to assist them in resolving their differences. While there are various approaches to, and styles of, mediation, one commonality is the lack of mediator decision-making authority: parties are bound by the process’ outcome only if they finalized an agreement. Most mediation processes are characterized by the mediator attempting to repair the disputing parties’ relationship and improve their communication, so as to enable them to speak openly about their concerns and needs and work together towards addressing them.
Negotiation Support Systems (NSS): A range of software applications and platforms designed to aid parties in conducting negotiations. Different platforms stress different aspects of negotiation. Some manage the communication process, and stress keeping inter-party communication simple and structured by providing dedicated fields, formats, and forms. Others provide multiple communication venues for parties to utilize, according to their own comfort and choice, such as secure e-mail, instant messaging, or chat channels. Certain NSS focus on the decision-making process, and assist parties in analyzing their needs and preferences. If parties so choose, these platforms can also conduct an independent analysis of both parties’ needs and preferences and suggest solutions that the software considers optimal.