Recent Symposium Highlights ADR's Place in Navigating a Polarized Era | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

Summary of:

Welsh, N.A. (2021). Introduction to symposium on “ADR’s place in navigating a polarized era.” 35 Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol., 581.

Background & Theory

This article introduces a Symposium related to Alternative Dispute Resolution’s (ADR) role in an increasingly polarized time. The article begins with the idea that the United States is fundamentally built for conflict. The article opines that because the U.S. is based on a system of checks and balances, it is inherently set up for friction. However, according to Welsh, conflict fosters debate which can be productive. Notably, the author argues that “conflict, within a nation — or a family or a workplace or an educational institution —can be good.”

Research Questions

Welsh, in Introduction to Symposium on “ADR’s Place in Navigating a Polarized Era” (2021), sought to address the following questions:

    1. When is the use of “ADR thinking and skills” appropriate (or sufficient) in dealing with current, divisive issues?
    2. What approaches and tools are available to model and teach students whether, when, and how to use ADR skills in responding to polarized situations?


The author explores whether conflict can foster “newfound agency” and ultimately cause increased dialogue, creative problem-solving, and eventually progress. In addition, the author notes that although conflict can have positive results, we are currently in an increasingly polarized time nationwide which can make mediation more difficult. Notably, Welsh refers to a Pew study that found the majority of Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on basic facts as an example of just how polarized America currently is.

Finally, the author briefly summarizes multiple articles featured in the Symposium, all focused on various forms of dispute resolution. The author then relates the techniques presented in those articles to address what ADR tools and approaches are available for dealing with conflict.


Some of the authors referenced focus on certain pillars of dispute resolution practice. These pillars include, “empathy, understanding, listening, self-determination” and are used to determine their “relevance and usefulness today.” Other authors focused on “transformative mediation principles,” the “listening (or negotiator’s) dilemma,” and the “negative identity” theory.

Ultimately, the author finds that “none of these authors support limiting ourselves to resolving conflicts. Instead, we are encouraged to engage, respond, and learn resilience in handling conflict.” In addition, the predominant takeaway of the article is that “ADR thinking and skills” are appropriate when confronted with divisive issues, however, they are not sufficient alone.

What this Means

  • When navigating conflicts in the workplace we must remember that solving the problem is not the only goal. Rather, cultivating an environment of openness between employers and employees is paramount. In addition, teaching clients to listen and engage amongst all parties is vital. Finally, creating a safe space to express oneself while protecting other employees during a divisive conflict is necessary to ensure safety in the workplace. We must use ADR methods to help ease conflicts while also learning from the dispute.

Final Takeaway

A common mistake when navigating conflict I have seen working in politics — as a political staffer and a lobbyist — has been creating a work environment that prohibits or discourages open dialogue between employers and employees. By not allowing staff to feel safe to speak openly, you breed resentment and discord.

For consultants: Conflict is not always “bad” — even in this extremely polarized time. It is important for consultants to remember that good things can (and often do) arise from conflict. By encouraging an open dialogue we are all able to grow and learn, regardless of whether we “solve” the conflict or agree with the opposing point-of-view.

For everyone: Disagreement is OK — conflict is inherent within all of us. However, being open-minded and considerate of your counterparts only facilitates better dialogue. If you are able to maintain a calm and objective stance while engaging in conflict, you will learn from their perspectives and hopefully they will learn from yours!

Alicia Gené Artessa

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