Lockdown Dispute Resolution 101 #2: Dispute resolution agency

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In the current climate there are many things we can’t control. It can feel a little overwhelming. However, there are many things that do still remain within our personal individual control. Included in that list are our approaches to communicating with others, and acting intentionally so as to positively prevent, manage or resolve disputes.

In order for us to develop a strong foundation for using dispute resolution skills purposefully in our daily lives, it’s important that we recognise that we have the ability to decide to act intentionally as agents of positive engagement with each other.

Things within my control:

  • My choices.
  • My words.
  • My attitude.
  • My effort.
  • My actions.
  • My beliefs.
  • My opinions.
  • My responses.
  • My thoughts.
  • My boundaries.
  • My own social distancing.
  • My engagement with the news and social media.

Agency involves taking individual control over a situation. People with agency feel that they are able to act independently and have the capacity to make their own free choices and decisions. When a person has agency, they are able to act on their own will and of their own accord.

Words associated with the notion of agency include: individual control; intentional action; empowerment; and free choice.

There are always external influences on us, and on our actions, as human beings. However, when we have a sense of agency, we feel as though we are able to manage those influences (as well as issues that arise in relation to, or as a result of, them). Having agency means we have a sense of control over our life: we have choices, a capacity to act and decision-making power for ourselves.

Our agency in relationships is enacted in our choices about how we behave and communicate. Relational agency concerns how we choose to interact with and impact on other people. We can choose to make those interactions positive and constructive even when faced with stresses, worries and challenges. But this requires effort, energy and intentionality. An investment in our dispute resolution agency is worth the effort, however, and can only have positive and empowering consequences.

Now is the time for all of us to harness a sense of agency in relation to how we choose to communicate with others, and in terms of how we navigate the stressors and challenges of living and working in lockdown. Effective communication – to be discussed in Blogs in the coming days – is one important key to the prevention, management and resolution of disputes. Some basic aspects of resilience building and self-management are another essential enabler of preventing, managing and resolving disputes.  And of course, equipping ourselves with specific negotiation and dispute resolution skills is critical. We’ll be blogging about all these things across the Lockdown Dispute Resolution 101 series.

In accepting our own agency in relation to the quality of our relationships with others, we are accepting that we have the power to make positive choices about how we communicate and interact. It could even be said that in our current global situation we have a responsibility to do so.

Tomorrow’s Blog: Effective communication – the basics and the complexities.

Some scholarly resources on agency: Mustafa Emirbayer and Ann Mische, ‘What Is Agency?’ (1998) 103(4) American Journal of Sociology 962; Jack Martin, Jeff Sugarman and Janice Thompson, Psychology and the Question of Agency (SUNY Press, 2003); Albert Bandura, ‘Toward a Psychology of Human Agency’ (2006) 1(2) Perspectives on Psychological Science 164; Bryan W Sokol et al, ‘The Development of Agency’ in Richard M Lerner (ed), Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science (Wiley, 7th ed, 2015) 284.

Acknowledgement: Some of the content of this Blog was adapted from Rachael Field, James Duffy and Anna Huggins, Lawyering and Positive Professional Identities (LexisNexis, 2nd ed, 2020)

This entry was posted in Dispute resolution by Dr Rachael Field. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr Rachael Field

Rachael is a Professor of Law in the Law Faculty of Bond University. Her key teaching and research interests are in legal education and dispute resolution. Rachael was awarded an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Citation in 2008 and was made an ALTC Teaching Fellow in 2010. In 2010 Rachael worked with Professors Sally Kift and Mark Israel on the development of the Threshold Learning Outcomes for Law. In 2013 Rachael and Prof Nick James published a first year law text entitled "The New Lawyer". Rachael has been a member of the First Year in Higher Education Conference organising committee since 2007 and now chairs that committee. She was awarded the 2013 Lexis Nexis Australasian Law Teachers’ Association Major Prize for Teaching Excellence and Innovation jointly with her colleague James Duffy. In 2014 Rachael was awarded an Office of Learning and Teaching national Teaching Excellence Award. Rachael has also been a member of the Women’s Legal Service, Brisbane Management Committee since 1994 and has been President of the Service since 2004. In 2010 Rachael, along with the Women's Legal Service Brisbane, was commissioned by the Federal Attorney-General to design a model of family dispute resolution for use in matters where there is a history of domestic violence. This model was implemented in 5 locations around Australia for 18 months and was evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. In 2011 and 2012 Rachael was invited by the Australian Human Rights Commission to contribute to their International Program by presenting the model to bi-lateral workshops with the All China Women's Federation. Rachael completed her PhD through the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Professor Hilary Astor in 2011. Her thesis explored the notion of neutrality in mediation and offers an alternative paradigm based on professional mediator ethics. Rachael was named Queensland Women Lawyer of the Year for 2013. Research Interests • Dispute Resolution • Women and the Law • Restorative Justice • Family Law • Legal Education

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