Conflict Resolution Jobs – ADR Career Path

Because conflict is a part of daily life, many people are starting to see the value in creating conflict resolution jobs to resolve the conflict that arises within the workplace and other situations.  The prevalence of alternative dispute resolution and other forms of conflict resolution has also encouraged the creation of conflict resolution degrees and specialties across the country in colleges and law schools.  Completing a degree in conflict resolution can be a wonderful option for any person looking to begin a new career, but such a pursuit may raise many questions about the options available for someone with a degree in conflict resolution.  This article seeks to outline the possible jobs and careers that can follow a degree in conflict resolution and some of the daily duties and tasks of someone working as a conflict resolution specialist. This article will also focus on the path to becoming a conflict resolution specialist and some steps to take to make it more accessible.

Types of Conflict Resolution Jobs

When considering pursuing a job in conflict resolution, it is important to consider the type of job that one would like to pursue.  It is also important to consider if conflict resolution will be the focus of a career or if the training will add a benefit to a job focused on a different skill.  No matter what job a person has, having conflict resolution skills will be beneficial because conflict will eventually find its way into any workplace.  However, some jobs will focus specifically on conflict resolutions.  Some of these jobs will deal with solving conflict for a wide variety of people, while other jobs will require being the main conflict resolver for a specific company or group of people.  The following jobs deal directly with conflict resolution and are considered conflict resolution specialists to some degree.

Mediator

Mediators are conflict resolution specialists that deal with a wide variety of issues, from family law to business disputes.  They assist the parties in negotiation and allow them to come up with a solution.  A dispute will often go to mediation if the parties believe that they can settle the case but need some extra help to reach that settlement.  Occasionally, courts will order mediation in small claims or in cases that can be settled.  Some common characteristics of mediators are:

  • Neutral: A key characteristic of a mediator is neutrality.  Mediators are not on one side of a dispute but work with both parties to reach an agreement. A good mediator will be someone comfortable supporting both parties and not choosing the party they believe is correct.
  • Creative: Creativity is vital for mediators.  Mediation often involves issues that need a creative solution to allow both parties to agree. The best mediators will be creative problem solvers with the ability to see the needs of individual parties and find ways to make those needs a reality.
  • Intuitive: Mediators often need to react to the situation in real-time and have very little time to think things through.  Sometimes parties will threaten to leave or quit when a settlement is close, and a mediator needs to be able to quickly move into a problem-solving mode to keep the parties on track.  This can also mean moving between mediation styles depending on what the parties need.
  • Skilled: Mediators have often skilled in the area of law or business that the mediator settles disputes in.  For example, a family law mediator will often understand or have practiced family law in some way.

When conducting a mediation, a mediator’s typical day will include time for preparation before the mediation begins.  This will usually happen in the days leading up to the mediation.  The mediator will read over anything that the parties have submitted and get a feel for the material.  On the day of the mediation, the mediator will begin the mediation with an opening explaining the process and setting the tone for the way the mediation will go.  The mediator will then usually split the parties between two rooms and listen to what each party needs to make them whole and settle.  The mediator will then move between the parties with settlement offers.  Occasionally a mediator will bring the parties together to have them discuss a possible settlement.  If the parties agree, the mediator or the parties will create a mediation agreement.  If the parties cannot agree, the mediator will end the mediation and encourage further discussion between the parties on their own.

Arbitrator

Arbitrators are conflict resolution specialists that function like judges for an issue but act without the formality of traditional litigation.  They hear the evidence resented by all sides and then issue a decision called an award, based on the evidence and the law.  Arbitration is a voluntary process, so the parties agree to have their dispute heard and decided by an arbitrator.  The parties also often have the choice of an arbitrator.  Arbitration is also binding, so the decision that the arbitrator makes usually stands as the decision between the parties, regardless of whether the parties agree. Some common characteristics of arbitrators include:

  • Neutral: Arbitrators, like mediators, must be neutral and not come into the arbitration with a bias toward or against one of the parties. While parties are occasionally able to appoint a friendly arbitrator to the panel, this arbitrator needs to act neutrally toward the dispute and decide based on the merits.
  • Knowledgeable: Because arbitrators have to hear evidence and decide, arbitrators are often knowledgeable in the subject matter of the dispute.  This is especially true for arbitrators in specialized industries such as international trade or insurance.
  • Cooperative: Arbitration may take place in front of a single arbitrator, but many arbitrations are in front of a panel of arbitrators.  This means that arbitrators will often have to work on a team to issue an award and decide the case.
  • Decisive: Arbitrators have to make a decision based on the evidence presented and the law.  However, unlike judges, arbitrators can often be more creative in their decisions and do not have to choose one side totally over the other.   A good arbitrator will see an equitable solution and make a decision based on what is presented.

Like mediators, arbitrators often prepare for arbitration by familiarizing themselves with the dispute and the issues that need to be resolved.  This will often include more preparation than mediators because parties will often submit more information to the arbitrator before the arbitration to help illustrate their case.  The arbitration will begin with an opening statement outlining the rules and then the parties will give their opening statements.  They will then present their case.  Arbitrators will listen and examine the evidence and issue an award after considering everything.  The arbitration may take more than one day, depending on the complexity of the issue, but unlike mediation, the parties do not have a say in how the arbitrator decides.

Organizational Ombudsman

An organizational ombudsman is a person within a company or organization that is the designated problem solver for the organization.  This person will hear complaints from managers, employees, and occasionally clients and provide independent, impartial, and confidential assistance in the issues reported.  This allows issues within the organization to be solved without outside interference but ensures that the issues are being heard and employees are not pressured into silence.  Some common characteristics of an organizational ombudsman are:

  • Independent: To ensure that the ombudsman is not swayed or influenced by the company, they will usually serve as an independent employee with no other duties.  This helps eliminate the possibility of conflicts.
  • Knowledgeable: The organizational ombudsman will often know the organization from top to bottom.  They will understand the mission of the organization and how the organization conducts business.  This will assist the ombudsman in solving issues while also ensuring the company’s integrity remains intact.
  • Ethical: Organizational ombudsmen are also often the go-to employee when it comes to ethical concerns and training.  Ombudsmen will provide ethical advice and keep the questions and advice confidential to ensure that they remain the person to bring questions to and protect the company’s integrity.

The daily life of an ombudsman will ebb and flow with the life of the organization.  A day may include conducting ethical training, encouraging a manager to make a wise and equitable hiring decision, and mediating a disagreement between an employee and their manager.  Of the options for conflict resolution specialists that this article provides, the office of an organizational ombudsman will likely provide the most variety in tasks.

The Path to Conflict Resolution

Many people see the value in pursuing a career involving conflict resolution, but they are not sure how to make this goal a reality.  While there are examples of mediators and arbitrators in the news, there is very little discussion about how to become one.  This is likely because each person that serves as a mediator, arbitrator, ombudsman, or other conflict resolution specialist arrived at their job differently.  However, some basic steps can help someone hoping to pursue a career in conflict resolution.

  1. Discovery: The first step is to discover the world of conflict resolution and pick the area that fits with one’s skill set and goals.  Observing mediations and arbitrations, following an ombudsman, or participating in volunteer opportunities will help hone the area of conflict resolution that will fit best.  This is also where people can pick and develop a specialty if that is their goal.  This can be earning a degree in the specific focus or working or volunteering to gain experience.
  2. Degree: If a career in conflict resolution is the goal, it will be likely that a person will need to earn a degree in conflict resolution.  There are many colleges and law schools that provide training in conflict resolution.  Some jobs, like an arbitrator, will often require law school, while jobs like mediation often involve skill-based training related specifically to mediation.
  3. Organization: Once a person is trained, the easiest way to find work is to join a professional organization related to mediation or arbitration.  These organizations can assign disputes and help grow a person’s skill set and network.  If becoming an organizational ombudsman is the goal, it is often best to begin to work with the organization in some capacity to learn the mission and begin to offer services as an ombudsman.

Conclusion

Pursuing a degree in conflict resolution is certainly a fulfilling and worthwhile career choice.  Solving conflicts can be incredibly rewarding.  It takes knowing what kind of conflict resolution specialist one would like to be and pursuing the correct training and education to pursue that dream.  Finding creative and new ways to solve conflict helps to reduce the conflict in daily life and makes life a little easier and lighter as we move forward.

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