Conflict Coaching

by Tony Stoltzfus

"I'm so frustrated with Bob. Every time I float an idea he throws cold water on. "What about this?" and "why do we have to" that! He's nothing but an objection machine. It takes all the air out of the room, but nobody will stand up and tell him to dial it back. I just don't know what to do."

It's a common situation for a coach. The coachee comes to an appointment in a conflict, and wants help dealing with it. The challenge is that as coaches, we donít want to give advice or coach the person who isn't in the room--in other words, it's hard to mediate a conflict when only one person is there. So how do you help the client move forward?

First, you have to clarify the goal. At one level they are asking you to solve the problem, but usually the solution they have in mind (or, more accurately, in their emotions) is to reinforce their own rightness and get the other person to change. In other words, they want validation and vengeance. That's not a very coachable goal! A first key is to choose to believe the best in them--that what they really want is to solve the problem, and the emotion is something we need to get out of the way so their greatness can come through. So first you need to get enough of the emotion out of the way so the situation becomes coachable. A good starting place is to allow the person to vent for a while.

Being able to talk about how you feel is validating. The thing you have to be careful of, is to validate their feelings and responses without taking sides. When you take their side, you validate their rightness, and make it harder for them to meet God and change. When you validate their emotions and how the situation impacted them, you free them from the emotion enough so that they can look honestly with God at themselves, and change the things that are within their power to change. Taking sides works against the person dealing with God.

Another key is to reframe the situation from the perspective that the coachee is powerful. Often much of the emotion in conflict comes from the feeling that we are powerless. The other person is doing something to me, and I can't stop them. But you are powerful. For instance, the fact that this person can get your goat so easily here actually can serve you--it reveals the hole in your heart, the place where you aren't really sure you believe God will take care of you no matter what people do to you. You can get healed and emerge with the power to choose to respond well--and have more power than the person who is exercising power at your expense. To be motivated to work at change, the coachee has to feel powerful.

Once you actually get into problem solving, the most powerful tool for me is personality type and gifting. If I know your type, and I can get enough info to make an educated guess at the other person's type, then I can reframe the situation in terms of the different communication and conflict styles of the people involved. If the coachee can see from the other type's point of view, even in part, that is a huge breakthrough. Conflict resolution is not just about changing the way we act. It's also about relational restoration. When a coachee sees that there is a good reason why the person is doing what they do, it makes it much easier to restore trust.

Finally, when I am coaching conflict, I want to operate in a coaching style. Most people deal with conflict looking backward ("you did something bad back there. You need to repent and change.") A coaching approach looks forward, toward a better, healthier future. Here are some questions you can use to challenge people forward:

  • "If you were going to respond in a way that you'd be proud to tell your children about, what would you do?"
  • "If you said, God, I don't care if it is only 5% my fault; I want everything you have to teach me in this situation," what would you do?"
  • "If you saw yourself as powerful in this situation, what would that change?"
  • "How can you meet God in this?"

Find out more about the coaching approach to conflict from the book A Coward's Guide to Conflict by Tim Ursiny.