Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a general term that is used to describe the formal and informal procedures that fall outside of the category of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms.

In order for alternative methods to exist, there must first exist primary or main methods (or at least methods that are most commonly used). The strategy that is most often used for conflict resolution is that which involves the state by way of the judicial system.

The most commonly known extrajudicial mechanisms are negotiation, mediation, conciliation and arbitration.

These methods are distinguished from each other based on the presence of third parties when it comes to resolving the conflict and is further broken down into two groups: hetero-compositive and auto-compositive.

Hetero-compositive ADR are those in which an impartial third party decides on a solution for the two parties.  This group includes arbitration, which is when the parties come to an agreement to name a third independent party as the arbitrator. The arbitrator will be in charge of resolving the conflict by dictating a mandatory arbitration award after listening to both sides. The arbitrator focuses on objective data and on the existing rules in terms of the particular conflict. The arbitration award can be equated to the sentence dictated by a judge in court.

Auto-compositive ADR are those in which a solution is not imposed by a third party, but rather the parties themselves are the ones who come to an agreement on the points in question and find a consensual solution. This group includes negotiation, conciliation and mediation.

The difference is that while only two parts come into play in the negotiation process, there is a third party involved in the conciliation and mediation processes. This third party is removed and independent from the conflict and works to guide the parties to an agreement. The difference between conciliation and mediation essentially lies in how proactive the neutral third party is.

Below is a short story that illustrates how beneficial a third party can be in a conflict that seems impossible to solve. This fragment is taken from “The Boy Who Counted”, by Malba Tahan (1996).

We had been traveling for a few hours without stopping when there occurred an episode worth retelling, wherein my companion Beremiz put to use his talents as an esteemed cultivator of algebra.

Close to an old half abandoned inn, we saw three men arguing heatedly beside herd of camel.

Amid the shouts and insults the men gestured wildly in fierce debate and we could hear their angry cries: “It cannot be!” “That is robbery!” “But I do not agree!”

The intelligent Beremiz asked them why they were quarrelling.

“We are brothers,” the oldest explained, “And we received thirty-five camels as our inheritance. According to the express wishes of my father half of them belong to me, one third to my brother Hamed, and one-ninth to Harim, the youngest. Nevertheless we do not know how to make the division, and whatever one of us suggests the other two disputes. Of the solutions tried so far, none have been acceptable. If half of 35 is 17.5 if neither one-third nor one-ninth of this amount is a precise-number, then how can we make the division?”

“Very simple,” said the Mar, Who Counted. “I promise to make the division fairly, but let me add to the inheritance of 35 camels this splendid beast that brought us here at such an opportune moment.” At this point I intervened. “But I cannot permit such madness. How are we going to continue on our journey if we are left without a camel?”

“Do not worry, my Baghdad friend,” Beremiz, said in a whisper. “I know exactly what I am doing. Give me your camel, and you will see what results.”

And such was the tone of confidence in his voice that, without the slightest hesitation, I gave over my beautiful Jamal, which was then added to the number that had to be divided between the three brothers.

“My friends,” he said, “I am going to make a fair and accurate division of the camels as you can see, now number 36.”

Turning to the eldest of the brothers, he spoke thus: “You would have half of 35—that is 17.5. Now you will receive half of 36—that is 18. You have nothing to complain about because you gain by this division.”

Turning to the second heir, he continued, “And you, Hamed, you would have received one-third of 35—that is, 11 and some. Now you will receive one-third of 36 that is 12. You cannot protest as you too gain by this division.

Finally he spoke to the youngest, “And you young Harim Namir, according to your father’s last wishes you were to receive one-ninth of 35 or three camels and part of another. Nevertheless, I will give you one-ninth of 36, or 4. You have benefited substantially and should be grateful to me for it.”

And he concluded with the greatest confidence, “By this advantageous division, which has benefited everyone, 18 camels belong to the oldest, 12 to the next, and 4 to the youngest, which comes out to—18 + 12 + 4 = 34 camels. Of the 36 camels, therefore, there are 2 extra. One, as you know, belongs to my friend from Baghdad. The other rightly belongs to me for having resolved the complicated problem of the inheritance to everyone’s satisfaction.”

“Stranger, you are a most intelligent man,” exclaimed the oldest of the three brothers, “and we accept your solution with the confidence that it was achieved with justice and equity.” The clever Beremiz the Man Who Counted, took possession of one of the finest animals in the herd and, handing me the reins of my own animal, said, “Now, dear friend, you can continue the journey on your camel, comfortable and content. I have one of my own to carry me.” And we traveled on towards Baghdad.

This story demonstrates how incorporating an objective perspective into conflict (in this case algebra) facilitates a change in perception for both sides. It makes the conflict easier to solve, what do you think?

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