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Disputes derive from context, so it can be difficult to categorize them neatly, but there are four elements that commonly feature: internal, meaning, external, and compounding elements. This might be called the “IMEC model”. Recognising these elements can help parties work out what is important in a dispute and how it might be resolved.
First, we internalise a dispute. We build up an internal narration about our lives and a dispute becomes a part of that. We need to process what is happening and explain to ourselves how we have got into this situation. We rarely have neutral thoughts about a dispute. We might see ourselves as the hero or the victim; we might see the other party as the cruel aggressor or as a misguided fool. And how we process a dispute can dictate how we react to it. We may feel we need to devote time and effort to a response or else we will somehow have lost something of ourselves. We may want revenge. We may want to get out of the dispute as quickly as possible. We may want to win for the sake of winning.
This internalisation operates on groups and organisations as well. They can collectively feel attacked and victimised, or self-righteous or wronged. With groups and organisations there is the added complication of internal politics: blame is ascribed, individuals feel under pressure, departments are threatened. There are attacks from outside and from within at the same time.
A dispute also impacts on our conception of what is important and what has meaning in our lives. We can see our essential ideals being threatened: not only our view of how a contract works, but also our sense of justice and our sense of fair dealing. Why should the other party gain from its wrongdoing? Why should it profit from claims that are unfounded? We need meaning in our
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