People often grapple with the role of emotion in corporate disputes. Some fail to perceive a difference between a business dispute and an interpersonal dispute, arguing the same emotional aspects exist in any conflict situation. Others delineate between the two contexts, asserting that emotions have no role in business disputes. Finally, some acknowledge that emotions influence both personal and business disputes, but they impact the conflict in different ways.

Emotions are involved in almost any dispute. The emotional component to the conflict may vary; but a conflict without emotions by at least one party is not a conflict. Those dealing with conflict in the domestic and workplace contexts have been quick to acknowledge the role of emotions in resolving disputes. It has taken longer for corporations to effectively understand and address emotions in critical situations. In the age of social media and 24-hour news outlets, consumer opinions have an ever-increasing audience. Misstatements and actions by corporations in response to the consumer can quickly impact the corporation.

As Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the United States Federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 and the compensation funds for the BP Oil Spill and General Motors Company faulty ignition switches, stated, “When innocent people are wronged there is an emotional component to their reaction”. In making this statement, Mr Feinberg intimated that it is not whether people actually were wronged or innocent as determined by an objective standard, it is whether they feel wronged and perceive themselves as innocent.

Jan-Mar 2015 issue

Center for Dispute Resolution, University of Maryland Carey School of Law