When I started teaching and coaching around conflict resolution, I was blown away with the similarities between coaching and conflict resolution competencies. I wanted to share some of these observations hoping it would add value to coaches, leaders, mediators, or anyone working in these fields.
In my observations, I discovered four key competencies or abilities which professional certified coaches use, and which can be used to resolve conflicts in any work or personal relationship.
As professional coaches, we believe that coaching helps transform lives and, surely, resolving a conflict will transform lives. Both fields support heightened awareness about self and the other, which translates into enjoying better and more supportive relationships, whether at work or in life.
The real causes of conflict are never the positions we usually keep holding onto. Positions such as: what she said or did to me or how he acted or behaved. The first step towards resolving conflicts is understanding why this person is behaving the way they do in the first place.
Unmet needs, compromised values and unspoken expectations are among the real reasons which stir conflict. Moreover, the beliefs, judgements and prejudices we all have play a significant role in allowing it to smoulder. So, building an awareness about the real conflict reasons illuminate the path to resolution. It helps us find solutions and common ground.
This is comparable to the profound concept in coaching which says:
“Coach the person not the problem”.
When coaching the person, the problem starts dissipating as the real reason behind the problem sometimes is a need that is not being met, or a value the person is unable to live by, or even a disappointment of unspoken expectation not being honoured.
In problems, as much as conflict, the path to solutions is always deeper inwards than the positions and the problem that challenges us.
If we get to the truth about what we need or what we want or expect, we get out of being stuck in the problem and start searching for solutions. When we start understanding deeper beyond the conflicting position, the needs and desires of the other person, only then do we move towards a resolution.
Call it Active Listening or deep listening or listening better – listening is a key skill to both domains.
To be able to coach someone, you need to listen on a deeper level than words, and you cannot do that if you are not curious about the person you are coaching.
Similarly, to resolve a conflict, there is no other way than to be curious about the other person, to start noticing what they are telling you and what emotions are underlying their words.
By actively listening, you are allowing yourself to notice what the unmet needs are, or which value is being compromised, or the expectation that they are not attaining through their interaction with you. Subsequently, this would facilitate a candid conversation with the other person that would help both parties find a common ground for a resolution.
We come with our own beliefs, perceptions, and judgements. This is our baggage. When dealing with other people who have their own baggage too, we never know the real reasons behind the conflict, unless we ask them the right questions with genuine interest.
Asking an effective question would help us further on the path to resolving the conflict or at least to discover the way to that place. During conflict, we become trapped in our own assumptions about the other person or the situation, however if we can put that aside for a while and ask the other person how they see the situation from their own perspective, or what they expect, or what the situation means to them, or, simply put, to try to understand them a little bit better, we might bring the real issue to the surface.
We might even give the other person space to be vulnerable and to share their feelings or fears with us. Then resolution becomes possible.
The purpose of these questions is about reflection and clarity: knowing what is really going on in the other person’s world beyond our judgements and assumptions.
In coaching, effective questioning to evoke awareness provokes reflection, clarity and learning for the coachee, as these questions are judgement-free and come from a place of curiosity about the other person, not the coach.
One of the most important traits or skills that helps us resolve conflicts in a timely manner, or being better at doing so, is empathy. Being empathetic is your ability to notice the other person’s emotions and to understand where this person is coming from, or what they are going through. To be able to see the issue from their perspective. Not necessarily approving of the perspective or the behaviour the person is exhibiting, rather just listening and being present.
In the same way, empathy is a crucial trait of a coach. Without empathy, the coach would be in their own world not able to focus on the coachee and what they are going through.
Above, I shared briefly about a few of the coaching competencies of ICF certified coaches that are essential skills for resolving conflicts such as Awareness, Effective Questions, Active Listening, and Empathy.
This is a simple demonstration to show the similarities between the skills required in these two domains.
Managing conflicts and resolving them proactively is one of the most important competencies of leadership, and as much as these coaching skills are important to conflict resolution, they are equally important to other leadership competencies, such as managing change and performance. Therefore, I believe including coaching competencies in the workplace is essential to enhancing performance and elevating leadership.
For more information about building a coaching culture in the workplace, you can refer to the latest ICF research available on ICF Coaching in Organizations portal.
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About the ICF:
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organization leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organizations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organizations, communities and the world through coaching.
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Lina Ayesh holds an ICF ACC credential. She is a Certified Executive/ Leadership Coach, Mentor and Trainer living in Amman, Jordan. Lina strives to assist professionals to create their business roadmap, build highly engaged teams, increase profits and drive organizational success, using practical and proven coaching and facilitation strategies. Lina is an engineer with 25 years of experience in the corporate world of IT, where she brings a long and diversified experience in the aspects of business, technology and team capacity building.