Make Dispute Resolution Part Of Your Agreements

Because of my gift for taking a great deal of bullshit and condensing it into a reasonable size (I also have a gift for the reverse) I’m often asked to help people develop agreements. More often than, if I’m not involved in the initial drafting of the agreement, I find myself looking at pages and pages of very specific points.

These days it seems very common for people to try to spell out every possible way a party involved in an agreement could violate it. This tendency results in pages of text pointing out specific actions that are in violation of the agreement. Everything from how close one individual can be to another (sometimes exact measurements in inches are even listed) to what language they can use often appear as points amongst the seemingly billions of other points.

When I’m asked to review one of these agreements I start with the Bill and Ted principle, which is “Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes.” Such a basic principle seems to leave an almost infinite amount of wiggle room for people to be assholes. The real trick is to also include dispute resolution as a point in the agreement.

Every business contract you’ll read has a dispute resolution point but a lot of agreements for non-business groups lack them. A dispute resolution point is one that explains how a dispute amongst members will be resolved when they arises (and one will arise). Usually this take the form of a few individuals, either from within or outside of the group, respected by members of the agreement being appointed official dispute resolvers.

The old agreement may have said, “Personal space includes any and all space within one foot of an individual.” Through the magic of a dispute resolution point any disagreement over what constitutes personal space can be brought before the dispute resolvers. Instead of having to imagine every possible way members of an agreement could come into conflict (which is impossible anyways) an agreement can now fit on a notecard.

This method is effective because it’s simple enough for anybody to understand and flexible enough to handle changing dynamics within a group. Considering our society’s love for a practically uncountable number of laws and lawsuits regarding those laws it’s easy to see what even basic non-business agreements have blown up into 10 page documents. But sanity can be restored. All that’s needed is appointed a few trusted individuals to resolve disputes amongst members.