Book by Cathy A. Costantino and Christina Sickles Merchant
Review by Ruth Checketts Harrison
College of Business
Utah State University

Conflict is a neutral term, yet most people associate conflict with angry or emotionally charged situations based on past encounters.  In most organizations, the conflict management programs that have been developed and implemented are used regardless of their effectiveness.  These negative images are usually based on the organization’s method of addressing conflict.  “Designing Conflict Management Systems” enumerates the importance of designing or redesigning systems using stakeholder input and feedback to create an interest-based conflict management system that represents a truly participatory system.     

Part One reinforces the concept of conflict management as a system to be used to benefit the organization rather than a procedure to be followed.  Authors Costantino and Merchant point out that stakeholders are more likely to use a system which has been designed in a participatory fashion.  This discussion points out the importance of involving stakeholders in the creation of an interest-based conflict management system.    In an educational setting this concept alone could prove useful to individuals who have dealt with students who feel that a policy has adversely affected them.  

A major factor in Part Two, the design procedure, is buy-in from stakeholders, without which the system would fail.  Any system needs to be supported by the departments, college, students, and it’s many stakeholders to be effective.  Without this, stakeholders will find other ways to manage their conflict.  

Part three of the book focuses on the success of the system or evaluation.  This often overlooked but valuable stage of the process is perhaps the most important step.  Many organizations create the program or system and then check it off the list as complete without a process of evaluation.  Is the system being used?  Are we reaching the outcome we would like?  If not, how can we?  Without answering these questions we can not determine the value of the system.  This part of the process can be daunting because it may require a system redesign.  

The concepts of design discussed are useful for advisors and educators interested in developing an interest-based system.  While the examples used are based on conflict management, the related concepts are universal to any system designed with multiple users in mind.

Designing Conflict Management Systems: A Guide to Creating Productive and Healthy Organizations. (1995). Book by Cathy A. Costantino and Christina Sickles Merchant. Review by Ruth Checketts Harrison. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, $45.00. ISBN # 0-7879-0162-8
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