Using Conflict Coaching to Improve Mediation Outcomes


Conflict coaching is a distinct alternative dispute resolution process emphasizing conflict engagement and skill development for individuals experiencing conflict situations. In this one-on-one, forward-focused process, a coach works with an individual to increase their competence in engaging in, managing, or productively resolving conflict. Common steps in the conflict coaching process include assisting the individual to: (1) develop clarity about the conflict by exploring the roles of emotion, identity, and power in the conflict; (2) understand their perspective, needs, and interests and the other party’s perspective, needs, and interests; (3) explore and evaluate possible plans of action for engaging in and addressing the conflict; and (4) identify and develop the skills needed to effectively engage in conflict and achieve their goals.


Many of the techniques in the conflict coaching process can also be beneficial to mediators. I am not suggesting that mediators engage in teaching communication skills, mid-mediation, but there are two points in the mediation process that are particularly suited for the use of conflict coaching tools: the pre-mediation conference and caucus. Mediators can use the pre-mediation conference not only to discuss logistics, build trust with the parties, and get a sense of the dynamics of the dispute, but they can also take this opportunity to begin to move the parties into a resolution mindset by assisting the parties to articulate what is most important to them and challenging them to begin identifying mutual interests and expand their thinking about potential options. If parties are able to develop an understanding of one another’s interests prior to mediation, they’ll be more prepared to shift their mindset from focusing on fault to focusing on finding a resolution to the conflict. Another technique from conflict coaching that can be used in the one-on-one pre-mediation session is assisting parties to recognize and acknowledge their emotions and how those emotions might be playing a role in the conflict. Addressing this prior to sitting down in the joint mediation session, where the emotional and expectation threshold is higher, may help the party over a hurdle that would be more difficult during the mediation session.


Conflict coaching techniques can also be useful during caucus. For instance, the mediator can help parties better understand their perspective on the conflict by encouraging them to look closely at the factual information within their narrative and the assumptions they are making about the other party that may be interfering with their ability to move toward resolution. In caucus, a mediator may also assist a party to gain clarity on their view point or a possible solution in order to more clearly express it in the mediation process.

While mediators must use conflict coaching tools with care in order to avoid championing one party rather than supporting both parties in reaching a resolution, the principles underlying conflict coaching are consistent with mediation, and mediators can effectively utilize conflict coaching techniques to enhance their repertoire of tools and process interventions.

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