art work by John Ceprano
CINERGY (tm) - Peacebuilding... one person at a time

← Back to all articles

Conflict Coaching: A New ADR Technique

Karen was promoted to a management position four months ago. In the past month, three staff members complained to her boss, saying Karen’s micromanagement was stifling them and that she argues with them when they ask for more autonomy. The boss conveyed this to Karen who reacted strongly, pointing out that staffs’ bad habits require her to “manage them tightly.” Karen is concerned that her response to her boss may be career-limiting and she wonders what to do about this situation and her style of management.

James and Margarite separated a year ago and both are reluctant to hire lawyers because they fear the cost. Margarite read about collaborative family law and mediation, but she anticipates James will resist her efforts to move things along, even in these ways. Margarite may want to see a coach to explore these options and prepare her to communicate with James in a way he may best receive her suggestions.

Caroline is the CEO of a major retail store. She is about to enter into major negotiationswith the competition about a possible merger. A skilled negotiator, Caroline knows a lot is at stake and, although she has had much experience to date, she finds herself inordinately concerned about the upcoming discussions. Caroline may want a coach to help her prepare for these negotiations.

Mediators reading the above scenarios will likely consider how mediation may benefit the parties. Coaches are likely to consider the advantages of coaching. The forum used, mediation or coaching, depends on several factors, including the preferences and objectives of the person seeking assistance. For instance, Karen may want help on how to structure a conversation with her boss to rectify matters. She may also want some coaching on how to improve her management style to avoid similar problems in the future. Margarite may want to see a coach to explore her options and to help prepare her to communicate with James in a way he may best receive her suggestions. Caroline may want a coach to help address her concerns and prepare for these negotiations.

Growth of Coaching

Since the early 1990s, there has been an exponential growth in the field of coaching and its range of categories, including executive, organizational, life, and business coaching. There also has been an increase in coaching specialties, ranging from career coaching to weight loss coaching to parent coaching, and so on. In the ADR field, conflict coaching is fast emerging as a specialized technique, and this article provides a perspective on some of its applications.

A Definition of Conflict Coaching

Conflict coaching is a one-on-one process for helping individuals improve their conflict understanding and skills, to manage conflict and disputes more effectively. This definition, and variations of it, are used to describe a technique with the fundamental objective of coaching people to better engage in their interpersonal conflicts in both their personal and professional lives.

Assisting individuals with their interpersonal conflicts is not a new concept. Indeed, one of the many roles of organizational ombudsmen is to assist staff members on a one-on-one basis. In various ways others, such as union representatives, counsellors from employee assistance programs, managers, supervisors, and HR professionals, routinely assist individuals with conflict situations in the workplace. Similarly, therapists, psychologists and other human services professionals assist people with conflict in their personal and professional lives.

The word “coaching” however, is being used by many professionals and practitioners in these various groups, although their practices may not necessarily fit within the definition of coaching according to one of the coaching field’s main organizations, the International Coach Federation.

The following is part of a general definition of coaching, as stated by the International Coach Federation:

Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Coaching is an ongoing relationship which focuses on clients taking action toward the realization of their visions, goals or desires. Coaching uses a process of inquiry and personal discovery to build the client’s level of awareness and responsibility and provides the client with structure, support and feedback.

Unlike sports coaching, conflict coaching, as many other types of coaching, does not entail advising people what to do to improve their actions and reach their goals. Rather, one of the cornerstones of the field of coaching is self-determination and one of the main skills of trained coaches is the use of powerful questions that increase insights and awareness that help people, to help themselves.

Applications of Conflict Coaching

Currently, conflict coaching as a distinct technique appears to be growing mostly in workplaces as an additional option for employees and tool for mediators, whether or not there is an Integrated (Informal) Conflict Management System. This technique may be used instead of, or in tandem with, mediation and other ADR processes. In addition to helping individuals improve their conflict management skills in any context, some other applications of conflict coaching include:

  • as a pre-mediation or pre-other ADR process to help individuals anticipate and prepare for any challenges and to effectively participate in the process;
  • to prepare clients to actively and effectively participate in collaborative law meetings;
  • as a post-mediation or post-other ADR process to help individuals with the aftermath of any unresolved matters and ways to manage ongoing interactions;
  • to help managers, supervisors and others focus on aspects of their conflict conduct requiring improvement;
  • to help people enhance their negotiation skills;
  • as an integral part of conflict management training, to provide individualized ongoing assistance with participants’ specific challenges; and,
  • to facilitate self-reflective practice of conflict management professionals and others who work in any capacity, with people in conflict.


As an additional tool for ADR professionals, conflict coaching represents a multi-faceted process that is adaptable to the specific conflict management goals of the individuals who seek coaching. Although there are a number of similarities between some aspects of conflict coaching and mediation (and other ADR processes), there are a number of significant differences, besides the one-on-one nature of coaching. For instance, the types of goals an individual may bring to a coach are not necessarily about resolving issues. Objectives often include the desire to gain strategies for changing non-productive behaviours, or to manage situations without assistance of another person. While similarities also exist in some of the skills and steps used by both coaches and mediators, there are also differences that warrant appropriate training.

Creative ADR practitioners will undoubtedly develop more applications of the conflict coaching process. These may be used in any context in which people want individualized assistance to be able to engage in their interpersonal conflicts more effectively. Standards of practice will inevitably develop within our field in the foreseeable future and conflict coaching will increasingly establish its place in the ADR continuum.

Cinnie Noble, ACC, CM, LL.M. (ADR), is a lawyer-mediator and ICF certified coach who created the CINERGY™ model of conflict coaching. She chairs the ACR Workplace Section’s new Conflict Coaching Subcommittee and is co-chair of the ICF’s Special Interest Group on Conflict Coaching.

Published in the Ontario Bar Associations’ Alternative Dispute Resolution Newsletter, Volume 17, No.1, December, 2008

Get in Touch With Us

Phone 416-686-4247

Toll free (Canada & US)


CINERGY on Twitter Conflict Coaching Guild on LinkedIn

Request Information Here

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.