It’s a sad truth that some business relationships are not immune to the difficulties that other relationships can get into. Disputes between board members and shareholders can be magnified by the presence of money in the equation, and for small businesses, even relatively small disputes with dissatisfied customers or neighbouring businesses can escalate into a serious problem.
The cost of legal action can be measured in more than money: while a court case is expensive, it’s even more costly in bad publicity and the loss of formerly productive relationships. It should be a key concern to find a resolution before you reach the court, minimising the negative impact of the dispute and preserving the possibility that both parties could work together again one day.
A service many business solicitors and lawyers offer is mediation. This is an alternative to the adversarial legal system which gets both sides together with a neutral third party, the mediator, to talk through the issues and find a resolution without the need for legal action.
If you opt to pursue mediation, the most important thing is to approach the table honestly and without a sense of grievance. The majority of disputes arise from a breakdown in trust and communication, so a way to come out of the mediation process successfully is to be completely open about what has happened from the very beginning of the dispute, even if this expose faults in your business in the short term,
The mediator will guide discussion, helping everyone to understand what’s gone wrong and if this does show some critical errors on your side of the process, you can capitalise on this as a way to rebuild the other parties’ trust in you: acknowledging your errors and explaining what you’ll do to stop that happening in future, both to the specific party person involved in the dispute, and to any other future person. This not only helps you appear responsible and reliable, but also allows you to make concessions to the other party that are also necessary and helpful reforms for your business processes.
At the end of mediation process, if it’s successful, you will both sign a settlement with undertakings for both parties. You will have the option of making this legally binding, so it can be enforced in court if need be. This might be a necessary step to force both parties to cooperate until trust can be rebuilt.