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Volume 2, Number 2, Feb 2002

Conflict Coaching (page 2 of 4)

Conflict Coaching

Conflict coaching is a relatively innovative and distinctive form of coaching. It involves working one-on-one with those involved in interpersonal conflicts. Just as there are different general types of coaching, so too are there different approaches to conflict coaching. These approaches include the following:

Interest-based, problem-solving conflict coaching - Tidwell (1997) created a conflict coaching model that was derived from Fisher and Ury's (1983) interest based negotiation model. This model has the coach assist the participant in uncovering the likely interests of all parties to a conflict. The coach also supports the participant's exploration of common ground and creative solutions.

Transformative conflict coaching - Bush and Folger's (1994) transformative approach to mediation offers another way of structuring conflict coaching. Their view replaces the emphasis on interests with an emphasis on empowerment (strength of self) and recognition (acknowledgment of other). While not formally developed into a coaching model, a focus on empowerment and recognition could form the basis of a distinctive approach to coaching. The transformative conflict coach would probably strive to minimize his/her directiveness by, for example, not following a linear model and not using the skill of reframing (rewording statements to make them less negative). The transformative coach would attempt to have the coaching participant lead the process. This would include not trying to change the participant's language.

Narrative conflict coaching - Just as Bush and Folger proposed an alternative to the dominant model of interest based mediation, so too did others. Winslade and Monk's (2000) narrative mediation model is another possible bridge to a new model of conflict coaching. Narrative mediation theory is interested in the ways humans use stories to make sense of their lives and the ways different stories can lead to conflict and resolution. Narrative mediation might be used to design a model of conflict coaching where current conflict stories are identified and the possibilities of new, more effective stories are explored.

Conflict styles coaching - This approach involves using the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Styles Instrument to determine a participant's conflict styles profile. It then moves to an exploration of a particular conflict situation using the profile as conversational springboard. This model provides a fairly structured coaching model that new coaches can learn quickly and that remains reasonably sensitive to the unique life situations of participants. The conflict styles approach to conflict coaching includes assessments of the participant's general conflict style and style choice considerations in a specific conflict. Although the conflict styles approach to conflict coaching uses a standardized measurement device, the conflict styles coach encourages the participant to bring his or her own experience to evaluating conflict categories and relational behaviors. Conflict coaching has been shown to work well as one part of a campus alternative dispute resolution program. It may also be applied in various other settings both within and beyond the educational sector.

Conflict Styles Coaching

The conflict style coaching model has been used for the past four years by the Conflict Education Resource Team (CERT) at Temple University. It is for this reason that I focus on this particular model.

The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument has a straightforward format that most individuals find insightful and practical. The instrument is a multiple-choice survey that plots a person's conflict styles profile. The profile consists of five styles (accommodate, avoid, collaborate, compete, and compromise) differently positioned along two dimensions (assertiveness and cooperativeness). The instrument has been widely used, particularly with managers in business settings.

Conflict coaching model consists of four main parts. The introduction involves establishing rapport, discussing confidentiality, and talking through goals for the session. The conflict styles portion includes the participant completing the survey, learning and giving examples of the five styles, and discussing style tendencies. The section on developing choices in a particular conflict includes selecting a particular interpersonal conflict situation and using the conflict styles to do a detailed exploration of choices and perspectives. The closing is an opportunity for final reflections and for the completion of an evaluation form.

Effective coaches are typically recognized as above average in their confidence and self-awareness, concern for others, perspective-taking ability, and ability to verbally and non-verbally communicate. Candidates who are already distinguished in these areas can typically learn to be a competent coach after twelve hours of training. Of course, ongoing development in a community of coaches is highly recommended, particularly if the coach strives to be outstanding with a wide array of coaching participants and conflict cases.

Conflict styles coaching can be offered with a variety of other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services such as mediation and dialogue processes. The campus ADR program can partner with an administrative department of the university (e.g., counseling center or student assistance center), an academic department (e.g., communication sciences, education, law, psychology, social work) or a student organization (e.g., student government). Whatever the case, coaching referrals can come formally or informally from throughout the university. A formal referral system may be established with university housing, the university disciplinary committee, and with various other bodies that regularly encounter student conflicts.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.


Correspondence to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.

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© 2000-2005 William C. Warters & WSU, All rights reserved.