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What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternative Dispute Resolution, commonly referred to as ADR, is a term which covers many alternatives to traditional methods for resolving conflicts or disputes. ADR has been used as a tool in resolving workplace disputes arising from poor communication, personality conflicts, or alleged discrimination. At the Department of Commerce, ADR is offered as an alternative method for resolving workplace disputes instead of the traditional equal employment opportunity (EEO) informal counseling, or formal complaint process.

There is a spectrum of dispute resolution techniques, covering such processes as fact-finding, early neutral evaluation, negotiation, mediation, settlement conferences, arbitration, and adjudication. All ADR processes aim to achieve the following desirable results:

  • to motivate parties to focus their attention on the issues;
  • to give parties the opportunity to present their perspectives on the situation;
  • to provide parties the opportunity, often for the first time, to hear a clear explanation of each other's view point; and
  • to provide parties with a window of opportunity to identify common interests and points of agreement, and to fashion mutually acceptable settlement options to resolve disputed issues.

Dispute resolution techniques differ in their formality and placement of decision-making power. If the process is adjudication or arbitration, the decision-making power lies with a third-party neutral. When the process is mediation, the decision-making power will reside at all times with the parties in conflict. The Department has chosen mediation as its primary ADR method for EEO disputes because it empowers the parties themselves to reach an acceptable resolution of the conflict, through the intervention of a third party. However, the Department's ADR program also conducts settlement conferences, and has piloted other techniques, such as fact-finding and early neutral evaluation.