Key concepts in conflict coaching



Providing managers with mental, emotional and relational skills to understand conflict provides a better alternative to dealing with conflict in the workplace, than more linear models of conflict management can provide. Even in the most rational executives, there is an element of irrational behaviour. Often that irrationality plays out in conflict.


You have seen it yourself. Maybe, you are the executive that behaves irrationally.Most of us had experienced the irrational temper of a driver who had a fit of road rage because some other motorist did something stupid in his eyes. Only to see how he does something similar a few blocks further down the road. Almost all of us had the experience of a colleague who is very vocal about people who are late at meetings and never make deadlines, just to be frustrated by him not reaching the deadlines and not being in time for meetings himself. That’s the kind of irrationality that triggers our behaviour. This irrational behaviour often also plays out in conflict situations. I’m sure you also had experiences with conflict experiences with people that you will say I don’t understand this.


Manfred Kets de Vries, a well-known leadership guru in Europe,  said: “a considerable part of our motivation and behaviour take place outside conscious awareness.” I want to reflect on conflict and conflict coaching, and link conflict coaching to the phrase about motivation and behaviour is outside our conscious awareness.


What is behaviour?


Behaviour is a function of personality and situation according to Kurt Lewen. I have changed it a bit to say it’s a function of self-management (personality) and my perception of what is happening (situation), or maybe even the way I manage my perceptions of the situation. Coaching can improve both of these skills. Conflict coaching is about mastering the intellectual emotional and relational skills that are necessary to self manage and to manage my perception of the conditions of conflict.


What is conflict?


Conflict is caused by unmet expectations of how I want my needs should be met. Those needs include personal needs like love, the need to belong and to add value. It also includes our career needs, such as autonomy, mastery, and contribution. When these expectations are not met, then frustration develops. Frustration is an inner personal experience, which means that conflict always starts inside me. Frustration leads to differences, which create more tension and more stress; Differences lead to misunderstandings when we begin to talk about our frustrations. These misunderstandings create further irritation with the other party. This lead to disagreements which create anger discord, animosity and finally polarization. It is essential to see that the conflict process doesn’t stop at polarization, because after the conflict have been mediated or resolved, there is a reforming, restructuring or re-building of trust process that follows. Reforming is accompanied by uncertainty. It is also part of the conflict process.


The promise of conflict coaching


Mindful conflict resolution is one of the mental skills that you need to learn to deal with conflict. In mindful conflict resolution, according to Rosalie Puiman, you pay attention to “only the present.” In other words, here and now.  You don’t fetch issues from the past and make it part of this discussion. You are present with an attitude of curiosity, that is I want to understand, of openness, I want to be open to you I don’t want to prejudge you, and acceptance, that is I will be non-judgmental so that you are free to speak. The benefits of conflict coaching, according to conflict coach Anna Maravelas, include that the person who is coached in the skills of conflict mastering experiences less anger and apathy and depression. Such a person prevent costly conflicts instead of continuously resolving the same battles over and over. Someone coached in conflict mastering brings energy to the team. They turn self-righteous indignation into a search for solutions, and they strengthen vital relationships to achieve positive outcomes. So it’s clear that conflict coaching adds much value to a team and business.


Who are my clients?


My clients are everywhere. In human drama, there are always people involved in a conflict. They act as the persecutors, they play the role of the victim, or they want to be the rescuer of the team. Some are aggressive, cause trouble, will bully people—there those who are overly self-confident. Some people exhibit low self-esteem, will down talk themselves and avoid conflict. There are the powerless who will always come with excuses why they cannot find solutions for the challenges they experience. Some think they must rescue the team. They are tired of carrying the burden of the group. They complained about the lack of teamwork and the lack of response of the members.


 Also, in the business world, constructive conflict management is seen as a strategic priority for many of the big companies. There’s a good reason for that. Research from the University of Chester, supported by at least three other studies, says that that managers spent 18% of there time resolving conflict through formal processes. That is more than one day a week. Dealing with conflict impacts on the cohesion of the organization, the performance, the profitability, it affects the bottom line. So my potential clients are everywhere. Quoting Tim Roberts, conflict management and transformation specialist at the University of Chester. BPIR highlights the following, “Managers spend 40% to 90% of their time dealing with conflicts in one form or another; Unresolved conflicts lead to at least 50% of resignations; The cost of replacing one employee is more than their yearly salary; Senior HR executives spend up to 20% of their time in litigation activities, most of which relate to conflict in the workplace.”


How can you reach out to my clients?


The first stage of personal change is about a concern that develops. The concern is an awareness of the need for change that comes from the experience of frustration, discomfort, and daily frustration. You can think of the dynamics of office politics, the power games between managers, and between specialists in the work environment. The second stage of that process is a focal event the confrontation that happens and makes it clear that change is necessary. Sometimes a simple question when someone asked the individual triggers the focal event. Questions like the following can be instrumental. Do you want to stay in this place? Is this where you want to be? Don’t you want to move on? Don’t you want to resolve this tension? These questions confront the individual with, “where am I in my life?” what it is that I want to do? Change is an inner journey of self-management.



Let me conclude with a quote from a Facebook posting, where I wrote, “coaching deepens your self-awareness, builds your confidence and gives you the courage to speak when necessary. It is these three things you need to master those awkward moments and to become a person of influence.


**  This text is adapted from a presentation given at the BNI Chapter Abundance in Johannesburg in July 2020.


Works referred to: Manfred Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique (FT Prentice Hall); Anna Maravelas, How to reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress (Career Press), Rosalie Puiman, The Mindful Guide to Conflict Resolution (SimonandSchuster). Workplace Conflict Resolution, (