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Reader's Review

John Baker

Emerging Systems for Managing Workplace Conflict
By David B. Lipsky, Ronald L. Seeber and Richard D. Fincher
406pp. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003
Hardcover Edition: (US) $49.00

Emerging Systems for Managing Workplace Conflict is a rich compendium of research, insightful analysis and practical advice that will be invaluable for any individual interested in the field of workplace conflict management. Written by three authors who each bring an average of between 25 and 35 years of background experience in labor relations and human resources management, supplemented by extensive work as mediators, arbitrators and consultants to public and private sector organizations, it is a "must read" in its field.

David B. Lipsky is professor of industrial and labor relations, Director of the Institute on Conflict Resolution at Cornell University and holds a Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T.

Robert L. Seeber is Executive Director of the Institute on Conflict Resolution, associate professor and associate dean of the Cornell School of Industrial Relations.

Richard D. Fincher is managing partner of Workplace Conflict Resolutions (WCR), an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) consulting practice, a mediator and arbitrator and a faculty member of the College of Business at Arizona State University where he teaches dispute resolution. Mr. Fincher holds a degree in law from the DePaul University College of Law.

The work is based on more than six years of research into conflict management systems in the United States. The authors draw upon surveys of general counsel of Fortune 1000 corporations, onsite interviews with over 700 executives, managers and attorneys in sixty firms and extensive interviews with individuals operating as neutral parties in the settlement of conflicts and disputes.

Based upon their research, the authors conclude that "... there is a sea change in U.S. organizations that reflects an emergence of systems of conflict management and a new paradigm for organizations" (p.5). Their finding, they note, is independently confirmed in research conducted in 1999 by Bingham and Chachere who found that "about half of [U.S.] ‘large’ private employers ha[d] established some sort of formal dispute resolution procedure for their nonunion employees"(p. 81).

With this major movement established, the authors proceed to explain the reasons for the shift to conflict management systems, the processes that have emerged to service that demand, how those systems were created and implemented and the challenges that lie ahead in the field. It is solid and valuable work.

The authors extensively explore the genesis of the conflict management movement, noting that it begins " ...with the realization that conflict is inevitable" and the concomitant belief that organizations must have effective means to deal with it (p.7). Its first steps normally focus on a search for alternative methods to traditional litigation to improve dispute resolution. Only later, if at all, do organizations elect to expand their initial dispute management systems toward more wide-ranging conflict management systems. Generally, this next step in alternative management evolution still waits for most American corporations. We learn why as we proceed to explore the field.

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