Language and expressions that can be used to encourage the practice of anticipation and prevention

Human beings have long been using anticipation and prevention practices, both defensively as protection, and proactively as a way to make life easier for themselves. Over time, much “prevention lore” has been passed on from generation to generation, in both written and oral form. Much of it is obvious, much of it is redundant, but all of it contains kernels of truth about what the practice of anticipation and prevention means.

As a part of my continuing effort to identify the true nature of Prevention, I have for a long time been collecting all of this prevention lore that I could find. As a result, I have identified many bits of wisdom, aphorisms, sayings, proverbs, epigrams, slogans, clichés and even trite old saws that might help to illuminate various aspects of anticipation and prevention.

Ambrose Bierce, in his “Devil’s Dictionary,” said that aphorisms and similar sayings are nothing more than “predigested wisdom.” At the risk of subjecting myself to Bierce’s criticism, I’m nevertheless offering the following list of such items in the hope that they might possibly help to shed some light on the subject. (Nearly all of them have been borrowed from unremembered sources; few of them are original with me.)

  1. Familiar Sayings:
    • “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
    • “A stitch in time saves nine.”
    • “Penny wise, pound foolish.”
    • “Nip problems in the bud.”
    • “Safety first”
    • “Precaution means preventing harm.”
    • The Precautionary Principle: “First, do no harm.”
    • The carpenter’s adage: “Measure twice, cut once”
    • Follow the Boy Scouts’ motto: “Be Prepared.”
    • “Better safe than sorry”
  2. The Nature of Problems and Disputes
    • Recognize the reality that in any business relationship problems and unexpected events will always occur.
    • Recognize that every problem carries within itself the potential of generating a dispute, but every problem does not have to turn into a dispute.
    • To deal realistically with problems, study the sources of problems and the underlying nature of most disputes.
    • Disagreements are problems to be solved, not conflicts to be decided.
    • A dispute doesn’t just happen. Every dispute has a history, it has its progenitors and precursors. If a problem isn’t dealt with promptly, it can develop into such things as a difference of opinion, a disagreement, a controversy, an argument, a quarrel, become a dispute, and eventually escalate into the kind of conflict that requires intervention by someone who is outside the parties’ relationship.  (It would be useful if we could develop and generally agree on more precise words and definitions to describe the various escalating stages whereby a mere problem can, if not dealt with proactively and sensitively, escalate into this kind of conflict.)
  3. Ways of Dealing With Problems and Disputes
    • Focus on “fixing the problem,” instead of “fixing the blame.”
    • Solve the problem; resolve the disagreement.
    • “It usually costs less to avoid getting into trouble than to pay for getting out of trouble” (Lewis Brown)
    • Deal promptly and proactively to keep problems from escalating into disputes.
    • If a problem occurs, try to keep it from having an adverse effect, and minimize the damage.
    • It’s better to focus on early detection of risks than to have to deal with the “crises” and “autopsies” that occur, respectively, before and after litigation.
    • If a problem actually escalates into a dispute: “A dispute is a problem to be solved, not a combat to be won” (I found this on Judith Meyer’s website on 4-18-07.)
  4.  Anticipation and Prevention
    • To anticipate is to realize beforehand, foretaste, foresee, or expect.
    • To foresee is to exercise foresight.
    • To foretell is to predict.
    • “Fortune favors the prepared mind” (Louis Pasteur)
    • “Foresee what might happen, and then prevent it from happening”
  5. Proactive, Anticipatory, Preventive Practice
    • Anticipation and prevention in theory should not be difficult to understand. But while in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.
    • By “Anticipation and Prevention Practice” we mean the practice of both preventing problems from occurring, and, in those cases where problems nevertheless do occur, preventing them from escalating into open conflict.
    • “Anticipation and Prevention Practice” is not difficult to understand, but it perhaps does require a different mindset from customary ways of doing business. Following are some of the principles upon which Anticipation and Prevention Practice is based:
    • Being proactive means to take action before things go wrong, especially before irreversible damage occurs.
    • Anticipate and try to predict anything that could have a negative impact, or bring about unintended consequences.
    • Using anticipation and preventive practices can be described as “solving problems prospectively”
    • Waiting until disputes arise before resolving them is “reactive.” Preventing problems from arising, and keeping problems from developing into disputes, is being “proactive.”
    • The highest and best form of dispute resolution is dispute prevention.
    • Anticipation and prevention is mainly a matter of “how you approach and deal with a problem.”
    • Anticipation and prevention is not merely good legal strategy, but good business practice.
    • There is a lot of “power” in the practice of anticipation and prevention.
    • Develop a “prevention state of mind and outlook.”
    • Recognize that business is a “process,” and that the purpose of anticipation and prevention in a business context is to improve the business process.
    • To practice anticipation and prevention in business, learn how a business or a relationship functions, look for the sources and root causes of problems that have occurred in the past, anticipate and predict what problems may arise in the future, and figure out ways that are likely to prevent those problems from occurring.
    • Prevention practices can help to hold a deal together, help to shape the relationship of the participants throughout the transaction, and keep the relationship working.
    • Problems generally take some time to mature before they become articulated as claims of right. Take advantage of this time window of opportunity to intervene and solve the problem.
    • Recognize that the longer it takes to solve a problem the more difficult and expensive it will be to resolve it eventually.
    • If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Similarly, if the only dispute resolution tool you have is a lawyer, then every problem looks like a lawsuit.
    • If the parties to a relationship have established in advance a process for dealing with problems, the process will absorb the shock of unexpected events; but in the absence of such a process, events become crises and can create chaos.
    • “Process enhances preparedness”
    • Move from “crisis management” to “crisis prevention.”
    • Consider the similarities and analogies between the practice of preventive medicine, preventive dentistry, the practice of workplace safety and the “zero injury” concept, the practice of preventive maintenance, and the practice of dispute prevention.
    • Be not only “curative” but also “preventive.”
  6. Construction Industry Prevention Experience
    • Based upon construction industry dispute prevention experience, the keys to dispute avoidance certainly include the following:
      1. Both contracting parties view their relationship as one of working together to advance the business enterprise or transaction.
      2. Both contracting parties understand and respect the forces driving their opposite number.
      3. Neither seeks an unfair advantage or “something for nothing”.
      4. Both parties recognize the expense and waste inherent in an extended and escalated dispute resolution process.
      5. Therefore both parties, at the inception of the relationship, set up a series of processes that will encourage cooperation, keep problems from escalating, and make certain that any disagreements are promptly resolved. (Among these techniques are such processes as: early identification of potential areas of problems and disputes, incentives to encourage cooperation, partnering, and standing neutrals.)
      6.  All parties keep channels of communication open and functioning.
      7.  When disagreement surfaces, both parties are committed to seek quick, fair, and equitable resolution without escalation to the dispute level.
      8. Senior managers of both parties make their policies regarding dispute prevention and resolution clear to subordinates, and they insist on adherence.
      9. All parties recognize and reward exemplary performance.
  7. “All human beings resist change because we cling to familiar patterns, and in the familiar, we find our security.”
    • Bringing about changes in behavior or practice
    • “People aren’t likely to change until the pain of the status quo becomes greater than the perceived pain of the change.”
    • “In crisis there is opportunity. “
    • “Crisis enables you to bring about change and innovate. “
    • “Let’s not waste a good crisis.”
    • Some people say, “even if we don’t happen to have a crisis right now, let’s manufacture one.”
  8. CPR and Prevention
    • CPR’s full name is: “The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution.”
    • Note that “Prevention” comes before “Resolution.”
    • Perhaps it can be said that the “P” is more important than the “R.”
  9.  Dilbert’s Rules for Dispute Avoidance
    • “It will never happen . . .”
    • Delay, defer, distance oneself, hope for the best
    • Hope you won’t get caught
    • Trade favor for forgiveness
    • Take the hit and hide it
    • Lie about it
    • Blame someone
    • Surrender

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