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What's the purpose of conflict coaching? To resolve the conflict! But to do that, you need to be thrown-off balance. The status quo isn't working for you; business as usual simply perpetuates the cycle of conflict you're experiencing. You need to break out of that, and this is what a conflict coach can help you do. It is, and has to be, uncomfortable. But just how uncomfortable? Some coaches seem to model their practices on a Hollywood version of a drill sergeant, while others offer a more moderate approach. Which is the more effective style?

There is no single right approach; there is, however, a right approach for you. It may very well be that you need someone to be more aggressive with you. "What are you doing? That's not consistent. This contradicts that. Why do you think that?" They immediately begin "attacking" your thinking. It's not done in a nasty way, but they are questioning any inconsistencies, associations, or other patterns of thought. You may need someone to jump in and ask the really tough questions because you are not willing to venture out of your comfort zone unless prodded by someone with this type of demeanor.

Some coaches pull this off masterfully; they are carefully and deliberately tough. Others just adopt the attitude without the strategy. This approach can backfire when:
  • The client simply does not respond to aggression. Instead of being prodded into opening up, he/she is like a turtle retreating into the shell. This is not to say that the coachee is meek; just that he doesn't work this way.
  • The client is not allowed to tell the best version of his story. In the quest to be aggressive, the coach may not let this person share his perspective, and this can lead to the client feeling invalidated or unacknowledged.
  • Sometimes, coaches can gloss over things or even twist words to throw their client off balance. They may push them into accepting a different perspective that does not align with their needs/values/goals, etc.
  • Sessions can devolve into venting and complaining. While telling your story is very constructive, wallowing is not. The purpose is to take you beyond that, and the overly aggressive method may not do this.

The best coaches are neither tough nor tempered - or they're both. They are able to tailor their approach to the specific needs of the client. A good coach is adept at ascertaining whether someone would benefit from a gentle touch or if they need that semi-antagonistic relationship to spur positive change and action.

I find that the best approach is typically to start from a position of balance, to build that trust before we start. When they have a solid foundation on which to stand, we start tipping it a bit, and then a bit more so they can learn to handle discomfort and conflict more effectively.

Contributed by John Curtis, Attorney and Conflict Coach


Larry Hart

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