What is Conflict Coaching?

In our increasingly diverse world, with different views, personalities, communication styles and expectations, conflicts are more likely. Conflict coaching is a confidential way to increase your self-awareness, gain insight into the experience of others and develop your skills in resolving arguments, distressing disputes and relationship disharmony. It is a powerful personal approach which can help you to explore and evaluate a specific conflict involving others and your ability to influence resolution or focus on behaviours that you want to change or improve to increase your conflict confidence.

Conflict coaching helps leaders in business to enhance their own conflict management resource-kit and support staff develop better conflict management skills too. Conflict coaching is often recommended prior to mediation in many different settings: in families, workplaces, business partnerships and shared practices.

Conflict coaching helps family members gain better understanding into what is driving distressing arguments or communication impasse. Conflict coaching can be used to discover and resolve misunderstandings, out-dated patterns or distressing events that have disrupted family relationships.

Elizabeth Williamson Solutions developed the Conflict Confidence approach to build on these insights by developing a skilled approach to conflict competency, drawing on the art and science of relationships skills from renown researchers such as the Gottman Institute, and the work of Bill Eddy and Megan Hunter, of the High Conflict Institute, amongst others.

Our social brain & conflict

Neuroscience has confirmed what we all know – our brain is a social organ. Our interactions with others often lead to mirroring the emotions and behaviours of those around us. Just watch as a baby make a game of ‘smiling’; she is delighted when you to smile at her and quickly wants to respond back with her own smile. We look for and associate certain visual and auditory cues for safety and acceptance, which leads us to experience a slow breath and heart rate, regulated emotions, and their associated biochemical correlates. This invites curiosity, pleasure, laughter and connection.

Conversely, we are more alert for and respond even faster to cues for danger, disharmony or social rejection. Our brains are wired for survival and safety-first decisions. This requires fast reactions to potential psychological or physical threats: impressions of facial expressions, body language and voice tone are processed quickly, even before we analyse the words we hear. Conflict triggers stress hormones that impede our higher-order brain functioning and immediately activates our primitive, protective responses.

Our defensiveness is unconscious, extremely potent and often counter-productive. Our field of vision is reduced to essential information about the perceived threat. Our bodies shut down the digestive system and speed up heart and breath rate, readied for action. We unconsciously scan the environment for social support or risk. Our ability to accurately interpret information is marred when our stress response heightens and adrenalin and cortisol flood our bloodstream. We are more likely to misinterpret a smile as a sneer, ‘sorry’ as sarcasm, and laughter as against us not with us.

Feeling our values are being questioned, dismissed or ignored has a very primal impact on our behaviour, increasing our defensiveness. When feeling defensive we will struggle to be willing to compromise or admit fault, for fear of social disapproval, a public loss of status and a private loss of self-worth that is so fundamental and unconscious that we continue even when our actions can lead to harm to ourselves and those close to us.

Neurological research has helped explain why threats to self-esteem and social status are so painful. MRI imaging demonstrated that experiences of exclusion, unfairness and negative comparison activate the same neural pathways as experiences of physical pain. Similarly, social acceptance and pleasures use the same neural paths as does physical pleasure.

Conflict coaching & self-awareness

Conflict coaching offers the opportunity to gain valuable insights into your unconscious drivers of conflict. With this awareness you have a better chance of understanding your vulnerabilities and preparing strategies in advance to reduce the triggers of escalating emotions and an over active stress response when dealing with difficult conversations, difficult people and difficult social situations.

Our world view and our view of ourselves is shaped by childhood experiences. Safety and security are learnt through strong, positive social attachment with care-givers, close families, friendships and nurturing environments.

If our early social experiences are confusing, care-givers neglectful or our attachments disrupted, we understand the world to be a more painful and unprotected place, and we observe and experience more conflict. We learn a heightened sense of vigilance is necessary to assess risks and have less confidence that our social environment offers protection and acceptance.

With support and guided reflection about these experiences we can gain more awareness and insights into why certain conflicts occur in our lives and what we can do to change these patterns.  Cinnie Noble is the architect of the CINERGY® Conflict Management Coaching model says insight comes with “…those moments of clarity when something suddenly makes sense … it’s seeing the same old thing in a completely new way”.

A skilled approach to conflict competence

The Conflict Confidence approach builds on self-awareness and insight to inform and hone critical conflict and relationship skills. Combining conflict coaching methods with the art and science of relationships skills drawn from such renown masters as Gottman research and the work of Bill Eddy, of the High Conflict Institute.

Demonstrating empathy aligns values & builds social trust

When you align your social values with your approach to conflict conversations, managing your level of stress, lowering emotional discomfort and reducing unconscious defensiveness is so much easier.

When you can demonstrate to another person that you will listen with intent to understand them, rather than preoccupation with rehearsal of your own story or preparing a defensive response, you reduce emotional tensions and gain influence, increasing your ability to lead difficult conversations.

Indeed, your focus on communication for another, speaking so that another person can listen well, rather than focusing on communicating what you want to say, that is, speaking to express yourself, ideas or opinions will deepen this trust.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Communication skills requires awareness of words, tone, body language, facial expression and physical energy. When stressed, it is easy to let negativity seep through our attempts to communicate.

It is a truism in the Conflict Confidence approach that we humans mainly make mistakes when we attempt communication under stress. We can’t quite get what we are thinking into the right words. We mis-hear what another person has said, let alone are more than likely to mis-interpret intention. We assume meaning without clarifying. We believe the other can see our positive motivations while also being dubious, or at least reserved, about theirs.

The Gottman Institute’s research has found the ratio of positive to negative communication in a workplace is 3:1 and in close relationships 5:1. That is, for negative communication it takes 3 positive interactions at work, and 5 positive interactions at home, to restore balance. That does not mean resolution, because we all need a substantial positive investment in our social interactions to override these moments of unintended error, dismissal, criticism or rejection. So saying ‘Sorry’ once just won’t cut it.

Accepting the reality that we are more than likely to have made mistakes in conflict conversations indeed ends the need to prove we are right, (and therefore that the other is wrong). Importantly, accepting this responsibility to repair communication error promptly and frequently means we can offer an attitude of generosity, something rare in conflicts.

Self-esteem can be shared

Expressing appreciation and conveying curiosity about another’s views, rather than expressing judgement and delivering criticism, increases both your self-esteem and that of others. This is results in a more positive bias towards the relationship and mitigates against hypersensitivity to threat and danger.

It takes courage to talk about difficult emotions of anger, grief, sadness and guilt, but sharing our vulnerability deepens mutual respect and social connection, despite our fears that we have weaponized the other person. In recognising a broader range of emotions and increasing your emotional vocabulary, you liberate and deepen your emotional intelligence and enable the other person to also gain insight and awareness.

Assertive communication skills start with the aim for positive influence with another person rather than demonstrable power over them. The first steps are to be able to talk about your feelings and what is important to you – your values. Positive regard for the values of another is essential to building their self-worth but also your own self-esteem.

How does conflict coaching work?

Conflict Confidence coaching uses a structured model which takes you through a self-reflective process. As you recount your conflict story, you are guided through a series of questions designed to encourage you to deepen your understanding of the different elements contributing to this conflict. These questions help you look beneath the surface of your reactions and perceptions about the intentions of others, to end blame and fault-finding.

You will gain a deeper understanding of and skills to manage your emotional triggers, set healthy boundaries, stay calm under pressure and re-evaluate your choices about how to approach to this situation.

Conflict coaching allows you to see the different stories which may be operating in this situation. You will be encouraged and assisted to challenge your assumptions about these, consider possible contributions you have made to the conflict, and clarify your needs for the future of this relationship.

You will be supported in preparing the next steps you may want to take to manage or resolve this dispute or change your approach to future conflicts. Coaching methods are flexible and equally effective when face-to-face, by phone or on-line.

Want to know more about how Conflict Confidence Coaching could help you?
Email info@elizabethwilliamsonsolutions.com or reach out by calling +61 400 219 120