Step 1: Gather Information
Before you approach or confront the other party, it is a good idea to gather any information you can to help explain or document your point of view. Depending on the type of dispute you have, this might include things like contracts, receipts, letters, photographs, or telephone notes.
It may also be useful to find out what your options are if you cannot settle the dispute through direct negotiation. Such alternatives might include mediation, filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau®, a government agency, or legal action. Even if you discover that there are no formal alternatives available—and that the only other option is to give up—at least you will know where you stand.
Step 2: Go Directly to the Other Party
The best way to resolve a problem or dispute is to go directly to the other party and negotiate a settlement. Here are a few suggestions that might make your negotiations more productive.
Approach, Don't Attack. If you go on the offensive, the other party will probably become defensive, and you'll hurt your chances of resolving the dispute. Instead, approach the other party with a cooperative attitude. You might start by telling the other party that you have a problem and you would appreciate some help in resolving it fairly.
Listen, Don't Just Talk. Once you have explained your perspective, give the other party a chance to speak, and do your best to listen. While you may not agree, the better you understand the other party, the better your chances of finding a solution you can both live with.
Keep Your Options Open. Your ideas about how to resolve the dispute may not be the only way—or the best way. After you put your ideas on the table, invite the other party to make some suggestions. When you have a lot of options to choose from, it is easier to find a "win-win" solution.
Avoid Unreasonable or Impossible Demands. If you demand that the other party admits to being incompetent, a liar, or a fraud—or if you insist that the other party agree to your demands before you sit down to negotiate—you may need a cooling-off period before you begin negotiations, or you might need the help of an impartial third party.
Step 3: Try ADR
If you are unable to resolve your differences on your own, Mediation Services and other organizations offer alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
Arbitration. An arbitrator is a lot like a judge, but there are some important differences. In arbitration, you and the other party enter into a contract giving an arbitrator of your choice the power to resolve your dispute. The contract can give the arbitrator the power to issue a legally binding decision or a nonbinding advisory opinion. Usually, in binding arbitration, the arbitrator's decision cannot be appealed.
Step 4: Take It to Court
When the other party refuses to work with you to resolve your differences, or when your best efforts to resolve the dispute fail, your only remaining option may be to take the other party to court. Although going to court is often a more risky, expensive, confusing, and time-consuming way to resolve a dispute, only law or administrative courts have the power to make legally enforceable, binding judgments without the cooperation of the other party.
Think about where you are in the process described above. No matter what step you are on, you can contact BBB Mediation Services for information, for practical (not legal) advice about what to do and how to do it, for mediation and arbitration, about how to make a formal complaint, or about where to go for legal advice and assistance.