To understand the criteria that third parties use when they intervene into a dispute and
help others resolve it.
To illustrate how these different criteria result from different assumptions about
strategies that the third party needs to pursue to resolve the dispute.
To practice mediation as a third party resolution strategy.
Exercise 32: Third Party Conflict Resolution
ROLE FOR SAMANTHA (“SAM”) PINDER
EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF FINANCE
You are Samantha (Sam) Pinder, Executive Vice-President Finance and head of the
main office staff for Levver Corporation. Brenda Bennett (Director of Human Resources) and
Harold Stokes (Vice-President Engineering) are about to arrive in your office. Brenda phoned
you this morning saying that she had to speak with you about Harold’s violation of the procedure
for hiring summer interns. Apparently, the Engineering Department (at Harold’s request) has
been hiring interns directly into the Department without going through Human Resources. You
asked if she had tried to discuss the problem with Stokes, and she said that she had.
Neither Bennett nor Stokes works for you directly. Bennett reports to the Senior Vice
President for Human Resources (who works in another office); Bennett has an indirect (“dotted
line”) reporting relationship to you because she works in the main office. Stokes reports to the
Senior VP for Research and Development in a different part of the organization. Nevertheless,
you are the most logical one to try to solve this problem. Both Stokes and Bennett are tough,
but reasonable, people. You feel that if you can bring the two of them together, the problem can
probably be settled. You called Harold to set up this meeting.
DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES
You are Brenda Bennett, Director of Human Resources for the Levver Corporation. You
have just taken over the position of Director of Human Resources, and have inherited a lot of illwill and dead weight. Past human resources practices have been less than perfect. However,
the people running the summer intern program this year are some of the best that you have.
Several weeks ago, the Engineering Department requested two summer interns. Jim
Lexington, your subordinate and head of the intern program, informed Engineering that they
would have to wait because the hiring would not begin for at least two weeks. Then, without
further consultation, Engineering went and hired two students on their own initiative without
You are concerned for several reasons. First, the intern program comes out of your
budget, and you will be damned if you will pay for two students not hired through your staff.
Second, both students are white males, sons of friends of Joe Barnes. You are concerned
about the E.E.O. implications. Third, the intern program involves some general overall
orientation and development work before students are assigned to projects, and these students
will be out of phase. Fourth, from your view there seem to be better applicants. Finally, you feel
it is necessary to begin establishing Human Resources’ “territorial rights,” and this is as good a
time as any. You have a good case.
With these thoughts in mind you called Stokes, and he put you off before you had a
chance to explain your concerns. Thus, you called your boss, Samantha (Sam) Pinder to
discuss the problem. You report primarily to the Senior Vice President of Human Resources of
Levver, who works at another location and only have an indirect (“dotted line”) reporting
relationship to Pinder. Nevertheless, since Pinder manages the office you work in, he/she has
the responsibility to try to handle this problem.
You only had a chance to tell Pinder the basic problem on the telephone, but not any of
the details. You know Pinder will expect some compromise from you, and you are willing to
seek common ground, provided most of all of your five concerns are somehow alleviated.
VICE PRESIDENT OF ENGINEERING
You are Harold Stokes, Vice President of Engineering for the Levver Corporation. Your
electrical engineering group is far behind on a major power station project. Much of the work on
this project involves relatively simple drafting; it requires minimal engineering competence if
supervised properly. However, it must be started right away. You and your staff decided that a
few summer interns would be perfect for the job. Joe Barnes, your manager of Electrical
Engineering, tried to hire interns through the Human Resources Intern program; however, he
was told that hiring could not begin for at least another two weeks. Remembering your past
skirmishes with the former Director of Human Resources (Brenda Bennett’s predecessor), you
just told Barnes to go and hire two students (friends of Barnes’ son in college) whom he knew,
so he could get the job started.
You are aware that this action probably caused some trouble for the Human Resources
Department. As a matter of fact, you are sure of this because Bennett called Samantha (Sam)
Pinder, the Executive Vice President, to complain about your actions. Bennett is not necessarily
like her predecessor and probably deserves a chance to prove herself. However, the two
students are here now, and they appear to be working out well; when Bennett called in a real
huff, you told her the students were here now, and “that’s that!” Moreover, some of the interns
that Human Resources have sent in the past have been complete “duds.” You feel that the
placement officers in Human Resources do not consult well enough with the host departments
when making placement decisions.
Bennett’s call to Pinder has prompted Pinder to get involved to try to resolve this conflict.
Your reporting relationship at Levver is directly to the Senior Vice President for R & D, who
works at another location. You don’t report directly to Pinder and Bennett only reports to Pinder
indirectly; nevertheless, Pinder has the most direct responsibility for trying to resolve this
You know that Pinder is going to expect some compromise, and you and your
department will accept anything reasonable—provided the two students stay—acquires more
control over intern hiring decisions.
When managers consider and evaluate ways to intervene, they typically borrow models
from the legal system or labor arbitration. Similarly, theorists themselves have borrowed the
language and models of the legal system to describe what managers do. Thus, students often
describe their actions as follows:
When discussing the case, students traditionally seek to achieve one (or more) of four
primary objectives: efficiency, effectiveness, participant satisfaction, and fairness.
Efficiency. To solve the problem with a minimum expenditure of resources—third party time,
disputant time, capital outlay, and so forth. Solving the problem quickly would be an example of
Effectiveness. To solve the problem so that it is solved well and stays solved. Making sure that
the third party listens to all parties who have a relevant perspective on the conflict is an example
of procedural effectiveness (brainstorming) to invent the best possible solution and one that will
“work” (i.e., one that will not bring the parties back in the next few weeks) are examples of
Participant Satisfaction. To solve the problem so that the parties are satisfied with the solution.
Giving all sides an opportunity to “present their case” is an example of participant satisfaction
Fairness. To solve the problem so that the parties believe the outcome is fair (by some
standard of fairness-equality, equity, and so forth). Again, giving each party an opportunity to
present their case is traditionally equated with procedural fairness.
When intervening into conflict, third parties tend to use one of several styles. These styles have
been described and classified by Sheppard (1983, 1984) according to the degree of control that
the third party is exerting over the outcome of the dispute and the process by which it is
Judges exert high degrees of control over the outcome of the conflict but not the process by
which it is resolved. A judge typically acts like a judge in an American courtroom—he/she
allows both sides to present whatever facts, evidence, or arguments each desires; and then the
third party decides the outcome of the conflict and, if he/she has the power, enforces it on the
Inquisitors exert high degrees of control over both the outcome and the process of conflict
resolution. An inquisitor is more typical of a judge in a European courtroom, or a Magistrate in
an American court. He/she directs the presentation of evidence by the disputants, may ask
questions or act as a referee, call for evidence that was not willingly presented, and then
decides the outcome of the conflict.
Mediators exert high degrees of control over the process of conflict resolution but not the
outcome. A mediator may initially separate the parties to interview each and determine their
“side;” he/she may then bring the parties together or separate them and ferry proposals back
and forth in order to help the disputants forge their own solution to the conflict.
Avoiders, Delegators, and “Impetus Providers” exert low degrees of control over both the
process and the outcome. Avoiders prefer to find ways to either ignore the conflict or minimize
its importance. Delegators recognize that the conflict exists, but try to delegate it back to the
disputing parties to get them to handle it or to give it to someone else to attempt resolution.
Finally, the Providing Impetus style (often called “Kick in the Pants”) delegates it back to the
parties with a threat—either they resolve it themselves or the third party will resolve it for them,
and “nobody will like the solution.” Research by Sheppard (1983) and Lewicki and Sheppard
(1985) indicate that managers in organizations tend to use the inquisitorial style most frequently,
followed by the judge and providing impetus styles. Managers believe that they use the
mediation style frequently, but in fact seldom give the disputing parties real control over the
outcome. Managers are more likely to use strategies that exert control over the outcome when
they are operating under time pressures, when they think disputants will not be likely to work
together in the future, and when the settlement has broad Implications for the resolution of other
Mediation appears to have many advantages as a conflict-resolution strategy, but has
been used less frequently than it might be compared to judicial and inquisitorial styles. The
clear advantages of mediation, as described earlier, is that it helps disputing parties invent their
own solutions to problems, thereby increasing the “ownership” of solutions, willingness to
There are many different stylistic approaches to mediation. The approach presented
here is one of the two most common, and can be described as the “orchestration” approach. In
this approach, the mediator attempts to work with both parties in the same room at the same
time. In contrast, a number of mediators prefer the “shuttle diplomacy” approach, whereby the
third party carries proposals back and forth between the separated disputants and tries to forge
a common agreement from the efforts.
Mediation is enjoying increasing popularity as a mechanism for resolving disputes
traditionally handled by the courts. In the past 8-10 years, mediation has become a popular and
viable way of handling labor disputes, divorce, community conflicts, insurance claims,
environmental and land disputes, and many small legal cases. Communities throughout the
country are setting up mediation centers annexed to the court system to relive the significant
backlog of trials awaiting courtroom dates. Mediation is preferred because it is frequently
quicker implement them and live by them, and hopefully showing them a process they can use
in than the courts, less costly in attorney and court fees, and, again, gives the disputing parties
considerable control in shaping the actual settlement. In mediation, both parties can be
winners; in adjudication, only one party wins, and sometimes, neither one wins.