Published in Real Business.
Find out what's going on. Disputes tend to be down to people and generally arise as the result of a lack of a proper authority in control, poor management and/or poor work practice. It is important to thoroughly explore who among the team is doing a good job and who is not. Once you have built a picture and understand the problem, you can hopefully take action to rectify the matter without the issue becoming more serious.
Be honest. The best managers deal with difficult situations in an open and professional way. The key is to always to look for solutions to problems.
Focus on the bigger picture. When considering entering into a dispute, you have to ask yourself some serious questions: If the potential dispute is with a client, do you want to work with this client again? What will a dispute do to your company's credibility in the marketplace? How serious is your financial position? Can you afford to enter into a dispute? The answers to these questions will help you decide what course of action to take.
Offer solutions. Identifying problems is good, but offering solutions is better. So do your homework and arm yourself with knowledge that will demonstrate to other
parties that you have done everything in your power to fix the problem. This will protect you against any other party that has let you down.
If a payment to you is late, pick up the phone. In this situation you have to be proactive, but not aggressive. Call to find out who in the organisation is responsible for making payment. Sometimes late payments are due to problems with paperwork so, if necessary, re-send a copy of the invoice and ask for confirmation of its arrival. Call five days or so before the invoice is due to be paid to find out if everything is okay with the payment going through on time.
Be aware of vanishing ink. The overwhelming majority of contracts are honoured, but in times of economic difficulty there is a far greater tendency for nitpicking on what can seem black and white. Overcome this by keeping up-to-date records that document relevant evidence of everything you have done on a project. Include photographs if necessary.
Do your research if you are working overseas. Rules, regulations and cost burdens differ from country to country. It is worth noting that there is no guarantee
of protection from the law of the country a contract is stipulated under, so make sure you research and understand the legal aspects of the country you are working in. In the UK, the position of legal representation comes into play once a dispute has crystallised. However, in the US for example, legal representation is involved in the lead up to the crystallisation of a dispute.
Avoid disputes if possible. Entering into a dispute should always be the last resort. It can be an expensive business for all parties. The best way of winning one is to avoid it all together.