My goal as a conflict intervention specialist is always to teach and empower others. I don’t just want to resolve a conflict for them, but help them gain skills to heal their own conflicts. Conflict coaching is a valuable approach to achieving this goal.
When I first heard about conflict coaching, I had been trained as a mediator, and was leading and co-leading mediations. Although I found the process and benefits of mediation compelling, I was becoming increasingly aware of many conflict related situations that were not appropriate for mediation, such as when only one party was willing to mediate, when one person needed help with preparing for a mediation or difficult conversation, or when someone realized they had a pattern of problematic communications with various individuals that they needed to address.
Working with a conflict coach supports peoples’ process to learn and practice tools for communication and self reflection, and to gain skills for understanding and managing their own conflicts and difficult conversations throughout their lives.
Although different conflict coaches have different approaches, All coaches listen empathically and ask questions to get at the heart of the issues. They usually give people a way to first tell their own stories in detail, then to explore the emotions and underlying assumptions accompanying the stories. Using a variety of techniques, coaches encourage people, if they are willing, to step aside from their familiar story and see what the story might be from other person’s perspective and from a detached observer’s perspective.
In this process, coaches often guide people to explore the source of their current beliefs and attitudes about themselves and others. They may look at their past, including previous experiences with that person or similar conflicts with a number of people, to gain a richer understanding of the current issue.
Once the client gains some clarity about their contribution to the problem, and recognizes they don’t truly know the other person’s intention, as separated from it’s impact on them, another aspect of the coaching work may focus on how to let go of resentments and forgive themselves as well as the other person.
The coach offers support and perspective for clients to look at ways to change their pattern of attitudes and behavior in the future, too. Since different approaches work best with different people, the coaches’ intuition and flexibility are valuable.
In order to change habitual patterns of thought and attitude, repetition is important. It may take a series of sessions on one issue, or separate sessions dealing with various issues, before a client remembers to apply the new learning and techniques in the “heat” of the moment. I find it particularly important to remind people that change generally happens with patience and self acceptance, in addition to effort, and practice.
The beauty of conflict coaching is that it can help people learn how to “fish” more successfully in the “sea” of conflict, and begin to transform their lives.