Conflict coaching is a specialized process that combines coaching with Alternative/Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR). A basic definition of conflict coaching used by CINERGY™ Coaching is:
Conflict coaching is a one-on-confidential one alliance between a trained coach and a person who wants to:
- resolve a dispute (past, present);
- prevent an unnecessary dispute;
- prepare for a conflict conversation; and/or
- generally improve his/her competency in conflict management.
Using a structured model, coaches work synergistically with individuals to help them identify and work toward their conflict management goals. Conflict coaching is a voluntary and confidential process that is, task and results oriented. There are a number of applications of this dispute resolution and coaching speciality. One of them – mediation coaching – will be described here.
To varying degrees, mediators coach parties when assisting them throughout the mediation process and particularly, in pre-mediations. However, the premise of mediation coaching as a form of conflict coaching, is that the coach assists one of the parties who wants help with matters that are beyond the usual scope of the mediator’s role. The role of a coach in terms of preparing and supporting a party for mediation is also quite different from a client’s union or legal representative, who may take a more adversarial approach that focuses on strategy and result.
The role of a mediation coach varies of course, depending on the circumstances and client’s objectives. A model found helpful by this writer has a behavioural approach. For instance, one of the functions of a mediation coach in preparing a party for mediation is to help the client anticipate possible reactions from the other side and engage him or her to practice effective ways to respond. Coaches act as “the other side” and provide feedback that helps the person in his/her efforts to respond to a challenging interaction.
Experiential exercises of this nature help the individual to effectively conduct themselves within mediation and beyond the process itself. That is, this process further helps the person to learn how to more effectively participate in constructive conflict conversations and gain insights and skills that extend beyond the specific dispute. Commonly, mediation coaching also occurs after mediation, to assist a party cope with any adverse impact and to ensure the experience results in sustainable learning.
The role of coaching a party to a mediation may also extend beyond the behind-the-scenes function, to actually sitting at the table. For instance, this role has been found to be viable in a non-unionized workplace between co-workers, where each party has a mediation coach. This role is different from that played by the party’s lawyer or union representative, in much the manner previously described, with variations appropriate to the process and the coach’s role. The coach attends for the purpose of helping him/her effectively participate in the process and gaining conflict management skills. The coach also helps the party work with the mediator in pre-mediation and caucus to explore issues, interests and options.
Essentially then, mediation coaches are silent partners in the mediation itself, although may be proactive in calling a caucus. Working with the party prior to the mediation broadens the experience for the client, before a joint session begins. In addition, having the unique opportunity to observe the client in a conflictual situation, provides the coach with important insights. This assists the client in obvious ways for post-mediation work, with respect to the goals relating to the client’s conflict management skills and approach.
This article has focused on the use of mediation coaching primarily in the organizational context. Mediation coaching helps anyone who wants to enhance their competency in conflict management and engage effectively on a one-on-one basis with another person or in a mediation discussion. Business partners and associates, life partners, family members and others are potential coachees, as are lawyers, union representatives and others who participate as “agents” in mediation and want to enhance their skills, their competence and their confidence.
Mediation coaching is a hybrid of mediation and conflict coaching. As a dispute resolution mechanism, it assists people on an individualized basis to improve their ability to participate effectively in mediation. This process helps people to learn more about themselves and how they deal with conflict, enabling them to shift their conflict conduct in a specific dispute, as well as other situations that arise.
As conflict coaching continues to develop within the dispute resolution and coaching fields, the likelihood is that a range of concepts will be creatively applied in various contexts. Many practitioners in both dispute resolution and coaching are already coaching their clients about conflicts they experience. It is foreseeable as is being experienced by this writer, that a more formalized structure and related body of work, practices and procedures will develop on a one-on-one basis and within the mediation context.