Interests, Rights & Power – The Dispute Settlement Hierarchy

The benchmark hierarchy for the resolution of conflict:

  • Outcomes that are determined through power or rights are frail.
  • Outcomes that are determined through interests and needs are sustainable.


6.1. Power
There is a natural tendency to approach conflict on a win – lose basis and power is the tool used to win. Winning through power has drawbacks that make this choice shortsighted, because the loser’s interests and/or needs have been ignored, there is residue. It’s important to remember that losers also have power that can be unleashed in many, and usually invisible ways. In the workplace particularly, winning through power places risk on reputation, allegiance, support, the implementation of the outcome and conscious/unconscious sabotage. All of that affects team, group, department, and ultimately company performance. Power-based problem solving is usually a sign that the big picture is out of focus – something like winning a battle while losing the war.

Be careful what you wish for you just might get it.

6.2. Rights
Conflict fought on the basis of rights has similar difficulties. It is doubtful that the loser will perform ideally while her/his interests or needs have been ignored. Settlements based on rights are not mutual agreements, so stability and continuity is hard to expect. Rules are what dictate the outcomes of rights-based settlements, but rules hardly address the nuances of disputants’ real interests. Because a third party [adjudicates] imposes a final decision, the parties have no way of working to generate their own creative solutions for customised agreement that takes their respective needs and interests in to consideration.

6.3. Interests
When disputants embrace the opportunity to keep control of outcomes, then their interests and needs will be taken in to account and discussed. That leads to agreements that are invented to suit circumstances, for the parties, and by the parties. Because each has participated in building consensus, there is mutual commitment to the results. That is where agreements get durability and robustness from.

It is only after interests-based approaches have been exhausted that rights should be invoked, and failing that, power.

For civil, commercial, litigious and similar disputes, the power à rights  interests model is troubled, whereas the interests à rights à power model is robust.