Helping businesses solve issues through mediation, arbitration and other alternative problem-solving processes.

Coral, Port Arthur and Dispute Resolution

Posted on June 18, 2014 by Steve Shapiro

Over the past 2 weeks I have had the privilege of viewing the most beautiful colors and shapes of coral that make up the Great Barrier Reef — nearly the size of the US Pacific Coast.


I also had the opportunity to travel with my family to Port Arthur, one of the first penal colonies in Australia where the British established their rule in the late 1800′s.  Both diverse regions showed an aspect of life where certain species have a greater capacity to live among predators, which is true at the Reef as well as the Penal Colony.

What’s it got to do with Dispute Resolution?

We know that dispute resolution involves a colorable claim either through a breach under a contract, a grievance, tariff violation, and possibly a policy decision.  If we use the contract violation as a backdrop we know that there are multiple dynamics at play in gaining the deepest understanding of the case.

The original contract formation, financing, specifications, periods of performance, payment terms, who the project teams are, the management structures, corporate cultures all play into understanding the fullest context of the dispute. And understanding the dispute itself, the perceptions, the documentary evidence, depositions, expert testimony, – - all shape the fullest context surrounding the matter.

The Barrier Reef helps you put time into perspective. Many of the formations may exceed 100 or more million years of age. A dispute that you are involved in may be only 1-5-10-25-or 60 years old is still considered a young dispute relative to the ageless aspect of this natural wonder.  How is this helpful?

Gaining insight into the timeline of events surrounding a claim is a good technique to cross reference the span of time with the key facts and events.

If you have witnessed the beauty of the coral you learned that it is alive; there are hundreds and thousands of species of fish living in the coral beds— all bearing electric colors that light up this under water universe.  A dispute’s time line can be seen as represented to the parties as a set of bright and clear foundations (corals) forming the strength and bonds of the working relationships.  Take the time to appreciate the history and stories that have evolved over time.  Then weave the dispute around the history in a nonjudgmental and neutral manner.

Yes, I know you’re probably thinking this guy Shapiro lost his marbles at the Reef. Well, don’t worry; since we still have the penal colony to discuss. When the British set up Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia, they did so because the cost of housing inmates in the British Isles was way too costly to the Crown. The idea that ensued was establish a community at Port Arthur where the inmates can learn a trade, be rehabilitated and move back into society.  This came at an additional price as solitary confinement and breaking each prisoner’s spirits was a key to the transforming process.

This left a harsh and bitter taste in the prisoners, but it was this combined impact that brutalized soldier/guard and prisoner. Ok how does this relate to dispute resolution?  In every conflict one side will typically feel wronged.  Yet in the Australian context, the inmates went on, with their guards, to establish one of the more progressive, peace loving countries on the planet today.

A dispute today may be an answer for tomorrow.  We all need to be careful to not stay too focused on the pain that is there (and I am not minimizing an individual’s experience), but also stay tuned to the beauty that can ensue by pushing through.

Australia is a beautiful, dynamic country – definitely worth the trip whether you are in the ADR business or not.

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