Are you dealing with a commercial dispute? Here’s how to do it

Read time: 3 mins

Disputes with other parties can cause significant stress and impact your business relationships. This is a simple guide to help you deal with disputes.

Step 1:  Understand the Dispute

The first step in resolving a dispute is to understand it. You should gather all the relevant facts and assess how it affects your relationship with the other party:

  • If you have a written contract, read it carefully and make sure you are in the right.
  • If it has a dispute resolution clause, follow its steps.
  • If you do not have a written contract,  gather evidence about the work performed.

Once you understand the dispute, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2:  Talk to the other party

The next step is to talk to the other party. You can call them if the dispute is minor, but a face-to-face meeting can be more successful for more complex issues. It would be best if you prepared for the discussion by considering how the dispute started and what the key issues are. Stay calm and professional during the discussion and be prepared to negotiate and compromise:

  • Request a meeting to discuss the problem.
  • At the meeting, explain your concerns and listen to the other party’s side of the story.
  • Try to find a solution that works for you both.

Keep a record of discussion and outcomes – this may be helpful if the dispute is unresolved.

Step 3:  Put it in writing

If talking over the issue didn’t work, writing a polite and professional letter gives the other party a chance to fix the situation before taking further action. State your concerns clearly and briefly, provide relevant background, identify options, and provide contact details. Avoid laying blame and use polite and professional language:

  • Include any fair concessions you are willing to make and leave the door open for further discussion.
  • If you need help drafting the letter, consult your accountant or business adviser or get legal advice.
  • You can hire a lawyer to write and send the letter. Be aware that this can make preserving your business connection with the other party harder.

*Download the free template dispute letters from the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) website: Remember to attach copies of the relevant paperwork to your letter and make a copy of the letter for yourself.

Step 4:  Ask for help from a third party

Many businesses and government agencies have internal dispute-resolution processes, and the (ASBFEO) can guide you through dispute resolution. You can contact them by submitting an online form, and a case management officer will contact you. You can also contact them at [email protected] and 1300 650 460.

Alternative dispute resolution via mediation, conciliation or arbitration is generally quicker and cheaper than going to court. You can check if low-cost mediation services are available in your State or Territory here:

Location: Links to Support Services and Phone Numbers:
ACT Conflict Resolution Service and 6189 0590
NSW NSW Small Business Commissioner and 1300 795 534
SA Small Business Commissioner and 1800 072 722
Qld Dispute Resolution Centres
Vic Office of the Victorian Small Business Commissioner and 13 8722 or the Dispute Settlement Centre Victoria
NT Community Justice Centres and 1800 000 473
WA Citizens Advice Bureau of WA and 9221 5711or the Small Business Development Corporation on 133 140

If the dispute concerns money, consider engaging a debt collection firm. Be aware that this could make damage or end your business relationship with the other party.

Step 5:  Go to court

This should be your last resort. It is expensive and time-consuming, and the outcome may be beyond your control.

We trust that this guide has been helpful to you. Speak to a NatRoad Advisor if you have any commercial dispute questions.