in dispute, and to prepare for their participation in the
process. In other cases, clients prefer to strengthen
their skills to self-manage the conflict.
Conflict management coaching may also be used
after the client has engaged in a conflict or participated in mediation or other ADR process. Clients may
seek to increase their resilience, to process ongoing
hurt, disappointment and other emotional repercussions that linger, to strengthen skills that they realize
are lacking from their experience in the conflict, or to
manage an ongoing interaction that remains strained.
Conflict coaching is not limited to existing or anticipated disputes. Many executives, managers and
other leaders do not have sufficient proficiency
in conflict management. It is not unusual for individuals to advance to leadership roles based on core
competencies that do not include effective conflict
management, and to rely on old conflict habits and
patterns that are no longer effective. They may retain
(or be referred to) a coach to improve their communications or other skills in managing conflict, which are
increasingly recognized as important leadership skills.
Leaders may aim to improve how they interact in
certain circumstances or with certain people and
dynamics. Or, they may have the general desire to
improve ways of presenting difficult matters and
receiving inflammatory reactions. These and other
related goals fall under the rubric of strengthening
conflict competence, defined by C. E. Runde and T. A.
Flanagan in Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader:
How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict
Effectively as “the ability to develop and use cogni-
tive, emotional, and behavioral skills that enhance
productive outcomes of conflict while reducing the
likelihood of escalation of harm.”
The demand for conflict management coaching for
leaders is increasing according to a recent Stanford
survey. Asked in an interview why CEOs most want
coaching in conflict management, the co-authors of
the survey replied:
Conflict management is critical in the CEO role
— just about anything that gets to the CEO’s
desk has an element of pleasing someone
and making someone else unhappy. When
the CEO avoids conflict, it can shut down the
whole organization: decisions are not made
and problems fester, creating a domino effect
of unproductive behaviors down the ladder...
So cultivating this skill can be a powerful tool to
help the entire organization.
It is important to note that the use of assessment
tools known to the ADR field are commonly used
with this form of coaching. These include the Conflict
Dynamics Profile®, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict
Mode Instrument, and the Dealing with Conflict
Instrument. These instruments serve, among other
things, to identify specific conflict responses, trigger
points and conflict management styles. They also
provide benchmarks with which to measure development and change.
Pre-mediation conflict coaching is also on the
rise in workplaces. The mediator holds a number of
separate individual meetings with each party prior
to the first joint session. Some mediators have been
reluctant to hold individual meetings at all, except to
describe the process or in caucus, due to concerns
about possible mediator bias. Those mediators who
do have such meetings have generally focused on
case development rather than on using a coaching process geared to helping the parties effectively
participate in mediation. However, it is increasingly
common that practitioners (also trained in conflict
management coaching) use coaching techniques to
help the parties prepare for the sessions.
The work done during pre-mediation meetings
essentially helps the disputants engage effectively
in the mediation process. The mediator can help parties identify what is important to them and what
they want to achieve with respect to the conflict and
relationship with the other. They may consider their
contribution and its impact on the dynamic. They
also consider how they want to be and are perceived
in their interaction with the other person, what they
want to be most prepared for, and what they want to
stay away from saying.
During pre-mediation coaching, the parties individually have an opportunity to explore their
assumptions and the impact of the conflict on them,
It is not unusual for individuals to advance to leadership
roles based on core competencies that do not include
effective conflict management, and to rely on old conflict
habits and patterns that are no longer effective.