Remember: You Didn't Always Hate the Other Guy

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Although the disputes listed above seem very different, they all have one thing in common: In each situation, the disputing parties previously enjoyed a friendly business or personal relationship. And in each case, at least part of the reason the plaintiff brought the dispute to court was that he or she was just plain mad at the defendant.

Disappointment is a significant factor driving many small business disputes. But feeling let down by the other party doesn't help you evaluate whether you have a good case. Nor does it help you prepare for court or collect your money should you win. In fact, aside from its value in goading you to take action, disappointment often gets in the way of the clear thinking necessary to make good decisions. It follows that your first job is to try to cool your emotions. If you are having trouble doing this, enlist another businessperson as your mentor. Carefully explain both sides of the dispute. Then ask your mentor for a frank evaluation of both the merits of the argument and whether there really is enough at stake to warrant taking the case to court.

Mediation may offer the best way to settle your dispute. Assuming you really do have a good case and the defendant is solvent, going to small claims court is a quick and cost-effective way to put dollars in your pocket. But like all courts, small claims court tends to polarize disputes and deepen enmities. In some circumstances–especially where businesspeople will benefit from working together, or from at least being civil to each other in the future–attempting to arrive at a compromise settlement through mediation is a better initial choice. (See Chapter 6 for more on mediation.)

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