What is Conflict Coaching?

When an individual is facing a conflict and is struggling to determine how to deal with the conflict, conflict coaching may be a great opportunity to learn about conflict resolution and master skills to make resolving the conflict a more ascertainable goal.  Conflict coaching is a one-on-one experience where a professional works with an individual to help them manage and handle conflict.  Many federal agencies and large business organizations require that their supervisory employees undergo conflict coaching to help create a conflict-effective culture.  Going through conflict coaching allows a person to feel more at ease when dealing with conflict, but it can also be used to help an individual deal with a particular conflict. Because of its usefulness in resolving conflicts both in the short and long term, organizations need to understand conflict coaching and how it can help. This article will explain the process of conflict coaching so that anyone considering the option may understand how it works.  It will end with a discussion on how to become a certified conflict coach.  

Conflict Coaching Defined: 

Conflict coaching, as mentioned above, is an individualized approach to addressing and understanding conflict.  It helps a person feel comfortable responding to conflict and working with others through the conflict.  The process teaches skills and teaching to help familiarize the person receiving the coaching with conflict and the resolution process. It can be a general conflict management skills training, or it can be tailored to help a person work through a specific conflict.  When dealing with a generalized conflict coaching session, they will likely move through a process that addresses the individual’s needs.  However, when assisting a party in dealing with conflict that they are experiencing concurrently, they will often follow a procedure to help the client identify areas of concern and move past them and through the conflict. 

Conflict Coaching Procedure: 

While each conflict coach has their own unique style of moving through a conflict coaching process, when dealing with a specific conflict, many coaches will walk with the client through the following process.  

Step Zero: Conflict Arises

Before the process of conflict-specific conflict coaching can begin, there needs to be a conflict.  This can be a small or large conflict, but once it happens, the parties will have trouble resolving the issues, which can happen for any variety of reasons that the conflict coach will help the client discern. The stalemate in the conflict will often drive one of the parties to seek out answers to resolve the conflict and encounter conflict coaching.  The conflicts that are most often brought to coaching are those that occur invaluable personal or business relationships where the dispute needs resolution but the parties are having an issue with it.  

Step One: Build Trust

For a party to feel comfortable with the process, the coach will need to build trust in both themselves and the process for the client to be able to feel like they have a space to discuss their conflict.  The coach will often begin the first session with small talk, letting the client share about their life and how they communicate before they even begin to discuss the conflict.  This helps the client feel comfortable talking about the dispute with the coach and feel as if they are truly being heard.  It also allows the coach to see how to make the process more accessible to the client through their specific communication style.  After the small talk, the coach will explain the coaching process to the client and answer any questions they may have.  This includes hearing about any expectations that a client may have for the process and making sure that the client understands the limitations of the process.  

Step Two: Goals

After the client understands the process, the coach will often ask them to identify goals that they would like to achieve through the process. This includes both goals for the entire process and goals for the current meeting.  One of the general goals is usually to talk about the conflict and identify ways to begin to address or resolve it.  This helps steer the coach toward topics and ideas that may be helpful for the client and to avoid topics that may harm the progress they made.  These goals are always changeable, as one discussion may bring up other topics that need to be addressed.  

Step Three: Empathize 

After they have established the goals, the coach and client will often walk through the chain of events that led to the conflict together. This can be difficult for the client, particularly if the conflict involves a personal relationship that is worth saving.  There are often strong emotions when clients describe the conflict.  The coach will often ask the client questions about the emotions that they felt and why things affected them as they did.  After hearing and acknowledging the client’s perspective, many coaches will have the client speak about the dispute from the perspective of the other person or people involved.  This process is often prompted by several questions from the coach that allows the client to see the other’s feelings and the motivations for their actions.  If done well, it can shift the course of the dispute and possibly encourage resolution.  

Step Four: Options

Once the client feels that they have sufficiently told their story and the coach feels that they have fully considered the other’s point of view, they will begin to explore options for resolution.  This step relies on the client to find possible solutions and the coach helps them evaluate the options, often by helping the client identify the criteria through which they need to consider the options.  The coach will then guide the client through examining the options compared to the criteria and determining the option that is the strongest one.  Again, the client is coming up with solutions and the criteria to evaluate the solutions out of their own perspective and experience, and the coach is only guiding them to make those discoveries.  

Step Four and a Half: Interim

When conflict coaching takes place over two or more sessions, this is often where the pair aims to be when they conclude their first session.  By determining the best option, it allows the client to continue to consider the option and how it may work before they need to act. They will often take this time at the end of the session to set goals for the next session and establish where they would like to take the conversation.   Coaches may also suggest ways that the client can figure out how to execute their resolution strategy, such as coming up with all the things they feel they need to say to the other party when they meet.  This will help encourage the client to consider the option and how to specifically address the problem.  

Step Five: Practice

Once the coach and client have a plan of action, they will often practice how a conversation may go through roleplay.  The coach will invite the client to have a conversation where they pretend to be the other party hearing the conversation and responding to it.  The pair will typically agree on the way they would like to conduct the conversation—either full conversation to make it as real as possible or interrupting the conversation to point out ways it could be better.  They will often run through the conversation a few times, brainstorming ways to improve the communication to ensure that the feelings of both parties are honored, but the necessary points are also made.  By the end of this step, the client should feel confident in moving forward.  

Step Six: Moving Forward

Once the coach and client have made a plan, they will often establish a course of action, such as when and how the client will invite the other party into a conversation or other options to resolve the conflict.  They will also often make a plan to stay in communication while the conflict is being resolved and to provide updates after the client can address the conflict and has an update.  The coach will usually remind the client that they can assist in the conflict moving forward if any more help is needed and let the client leave feeling empowered to address the conflict effectively.  If all goes well, the final step will be the resolution of the conflict.  

Becoming a Certified Conflict Coach: 

If leading another person through the process above sounds exciting or if you are in a position where you need to deal with conflict among others often, it may be beneficial to become a certified conflict coach and help others with your expertise.  It is not necessary to be certified to be a conflict coach, but many clients appreciate the knowledge that comes with being certified.  While each agency that certifies conflict coaches has a different approach, the most common steps are usually a combination of training and experience with conflict coaching.  The process usually begins with the coach going through a course that teaches the candidate skills to use in conflict coaching and how to properly interact with clients to ensure that the client feels empowered to resolve their conflict by the end of the time.  After training, the candidate will usually complete one or more sessions of coaching with a client and record them for a trainer to evaluate.  Part of this will also include a reflection on the session and how it could be improved. Finally, after the evaluator passes the recorded session, the candidate will need to present evidence of good character and will then be certified.  While it does require some training at the outset, it is an easier way to get involved with the alternative dispute resolution realm if that is something of interest.  

Conclusion:  

Conflict coaching is a beneficial way for people to gain skills and insight into the ways that they resolve conflict and how to address it in the future. It allows clients to talk through the process of resolving the conflict before they try and resolve it to evaluate any areas that may need to be addressed and causes the client to empathize with the other party’s point of view.  Conflict coaching is invaluable in its approach to helping conflict be resolved when only one side is committed to seeking outside help for resolution and allows the client to have an opportunity to share their concerns and feel the emotion outside of attempts to resolve the dispute.  Conflict coaching provides a valuable path to conflict resolution and is worth considering if a conflict is plaguing your life.  

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