Complaint system

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A complaint system (also known as a conflict management system, internal conflict management system, integrated conflict management system,[1] or dispute system) is a set of procedures used in organizations to address complaints and resolve disputes. Complaint systems in the US have undergone several innovations especially since about 1970 with the advent of extensive workplace regulation. Notably in many countries, conflict management channels and systems have evolved from a major focus on labor-management relations to a much wider purview that includes unionized workers and also managers, non-union employees, professional staff, students, trainees, vendors, donors, customers, etc.


There is a substantial early history of scholarly work on due process, and union and non-union grievance procedures within organizations. This work focused primarily on rights-based conflict resolution between union and non-union workers and their managers. Scholarly work has evolved to cover both a wider range of conflict management channels, and, also, a much wider range of disputants.

In the 1970s and 1980s much interest arose in the United States, in dealing with conflict informally as well as formally, and in learning from conflict and managing conflict. In contemporary language, these discussions centered on the "interests" of all who would consider themselves stake-holders in a given conflict—and on systems change—as well as resolving grievances.

These discussions led to questions of how to think about complaint systems and how to link different conflict management offices and processes within an organization. Papers by Ronald Berenbeim, Mary Rowe, and Mary Rowe and Michael Baker, described a systems approach for dealing with complaints—and all kinds of disputes—within organizations.[2][3][4]

Many authors extended the work of Berenbeim, Rowe, and Rowe and Baker, on the topic of internal complaint systems. They included: Douglas M. McCabe,[5] William L. Ury, Jeanne M. Brett, and Stephen B. Goldberg.[6] (Ury, Brett and Goldberg in particular described conflict resolution within organizations in terms of interests, rights and power and the possibility of looping back from rights-based processes to interest-based solutions.) Cathy Costantino and Cristina S Merchant,[7] and Karl A. Slaikeu and Ralph H. Hasson[8] extensively explored issues of designing conflict management systems.

The concept of an integrated conflict management system was conceived and developed by Mary Rowe, in numerous articles in the 1980s and 1990s.[9] She saw the need to offer options for complainants and therefore a linked system of choices within an organizational system.[10]

The idea of a systems approach has endured well. In recent years however, there has been discussion as to whether conflict should be "managed" by the organization—or whether the goal is to understand, deal with and learn from conflict. There is also concern about practical and theoretical issues in "integrating" a system, with some observers[who?] preferring the idea of "coordinating" a conflict system. However 2012 research by David Lipsky et al., suggests that an increasing number of corporations see themselves as having "integrated conflict management systems," or "ICMS."

There is also a major need[according to whom?] to collect, review and understand the nature of conflict management and complaint systems around the world. Studies and citations are needed about how complaint systems work for women as well as men. Research is needed as to how systems work for many different national groups, for people of different socio-economic classes, and different ages, and different religions, and especially for contract workers and immigrant workers, in every country. Studies (and citations) are needed about complaint systems in health care, in faith-based organizations, in schools, in political organizations, in the military and in many specialized occupations. Studies are needed[according to whom?] about important specialized issues like free speech.

A number of artificial intelligence technologies are helpful in complaint resolution process, understanding the attitudes of involved parties and reasoning about them, in particular, based on the belief–desire–intention model. Concept learning is an adequate formalism to reason about complaints.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Lynch, below[full citation needed]
  2. ^ Ronald Berenbeim, Non-union Complaint Systems: A Corporate Appraisal (NY: The Conference Board, Report No 770, 1980)
  3. ^ Mary P. Rowe, PhD, "Are You Hearing Enough Employee Concerns?" with Michael Baker, in Harvard Business Review, Vol. 62, No. 3, (May–June, 1984), pp. 127–136
  4. ^ Mary P. Rowe, "The Non-Union Complaint System at MIT: An Upward-Feedback Mediation Model," in Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, Vol. 2, No. 4, (April, 1984), pp. 10–18.
  5. ^ "Corporate Non-union Complaint Procedures and Systems" (NY: Praeger, 1988)
  6. ^ Ury, William J., Jeanne M. Brett, and Stephen B. Goldberg, Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict, the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA (1993)
  7. ^ Costantino, C. and C.S. Merchant. 1996, Designing conflict management systems. San Francisco
  8. ^ Slaikeu. K.A. and R.H. Hasson. 1998. Controlling the costs of conflict: How to design a system for your organization. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  9. ^ See for a list
  10. ^ See "People Who Feel Harassed Need a Complaint System with both Formal and Informal Options" in Negotiation Journal, April, 1990, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 161–172.
  11. ^ Boris Galitsky, B. and Josep Lluis de la Rosa "Concept-based learning of human behavior for customer relationship management" Information Sciences Volume 181, Issue 10, 15 May 2011, pp 2016-2035 (2011)

Additional references[edit]

  • Lynch, Q.C., Jennifer, "The Federal Public Service Modernization Act: State of the Art Innovations in Conflict Management," Canadian Government Executive, February 2004, p. 27
  • Lynch, Jennifer "Integrated Conflict Management Systems Emerge as an Organization Development Strategy" "Alternatives to the High Costs of Litigation", C.P.R. vol. 21 no. May 3, 2003; at[permanent dead link]
  • Lynch, J. "ADR and Beyond: A Systems Approach to Conflict Management," Negotiation Journal, Volume 17, Number 3, July 2001, Volume, p. 213.
  • Rowe, Mary P, "Organizational Systems for Dealing with Conflict & Learning from Conflict—an Introduction"; "Systems for Dealing with Conflict and Learning from Conflict—Options for Complaint-Handling: an Illustrative Case"; "An Organizational Ombuds Office in a System for Dealing with Conflict and Learning from Conflict, or 'Conflict Management System'"; A Supplemental Chart "Analyzing Your Conflict Management System," in Harvard Negotiation Law Review on line, at, 2009.
  • Miller, David, Staff Ombudsman, World Health Organization, Managing Cultural Differences in an International Organization Conflict Management System, in Harvard Negotiation Law Review on line, at, 2009.
  • Bloch, Brian, ISKCON, Creating a Faith-Based Conflict Management System, in Harvard Negotiation Law Review on line, at, 2009.