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Sometimes it seems like we could use conflict coaching everyday and twice on Mondays! But the point of conflict coaching is to help you develop the skills to handle disputes and disagreements on your own, regardless of the specific circumstances. Having the know-how and support to get you headed in the right direction can make a tremendous difference. There are, though, situations in which coaching is invaluable regardless of how skilled one is. These include:

  • Dealing with change. Coaching for organizations focuses on key people who are charged with being the change agent. While usually senior staff, coaching can be helpful for all levels of management in businesses contending with significant changes or challenges.
  • Before a conflict becomes a major problem. You can often nip potential crises in the bud by offering coaching to one or both parties. This will help clarify thinking, prioritize issues, and develop alternative methods of communication that can be useful in preventing a conflict from erupting.
  • As an alternative to mediation. Conflict coaching is typically used to deal with conflict that is bubbling under the surface. While it has reduced productivity or even poisoned the work environment, it has not reached a boiling point yet. In some cases, though, the process can be helpful to support individuals in conflict when one or both parties are unwilling or unable to meet face-to-face in conventional mediation.
  • A common example of when this is necessary is when management cannot remove one or more of the individuals due to the existence of a union but the conflict remains intolerable for one or both parties. The coaching process supports employees by assisting them in learning more about the tools, different approaches, and insights that can eliminate negative patterns and dysfunctional interaction.
  • As preparation for mediation or facilitation. Recognizing negative patterns of behavior that are fueling a conflict can be challenging. We are frequently unaware how certain behaviors, words, and assumptions contribute to conflict and hinder a productive resolution. Coaching, then, can be used to gain insight into the nature of the dispute, to avoid slipping back into negative patterns, and to determine what is triggering a certain response from another individual. A conflict coach helps you anticipate what might go wrong in the mediation and develop strategies for avoiding these pitfalls. Coaching, prior to mediation, can help enhance the effectiveness of mediation by keeping individuals from repeating the same behaviors that led to the initial conflict. Lawyers should prepare their clients for mediation, but they are not usually focused on this aspect of the process and instead tend to focus on what not to disclose and what sort of offers would be given and considered. These are nuts and bolts considerations that are highly valuable, however they may not be relevant if the mediation goes off the rails because tempers flare.
  • When only one party is willing or able to participate. It takes two to Tango and it takes two (or more) to argue. However even in situations where only one party is privy to the benefits of coaching, the fundamental sources of conflict may be eradicated and the argument resolved.

The results of training do not end with the successful resolution of a current conflict. The benefits are yours to keep long after your last session. When encountering significant change, a challenging project, a disagreeable coworker, or just daily pressures, the techniques, skills, and confidence you have gained through coaching will enable you to meet conflict head-on.

Contributed by John Curtis, Attorney and Conflict Coach


Larry Hart

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