“Physician – heal thyself” – Conflict Management
By Eliza Quek, First VP, APAC
Director, Terrific Mentors International ® Pte Ltd

The Grecian root of the proverb is apt when we reflect on what coaches and clients find most challenging – overcoming strong emotions of distaste, distrust and bio-reactions of flight, fight, appease or freeze in conflict situations
Google Search for conflicts yields “serious disagreements, arguments, disputes”; perceived clashes of values and interests; differences between individuals and groups which generate high emotions making alignment to common purpose unlikely.

Neuroscience demonstrates that decisions and actions we take are often rooted in feelings rather than logic. To predict outcomes of elections read the emotions on the ground. The politician who is able to connect at the emotional level wins.

Being aware of our biases towards an individual or group that triggers strong emotions in us is the first step towards effective conflict management. Determining the root cause of when, where and why the relationship ‘went downhill‘ is another part of the journey in exploring the source and cause of the indifference or animosity we may feel towards another person.

Sometimes the causes are anchoring (first impressions) bias and selective perception. We rationalize the ‘chemistry match’ at the start of the coaching relationship. Beware the limitations of choice based on similarity of values and interests vs. differences. While there may less tensions, we may end up with conventional wisdom and groupthink.

We need to balance the paradoxes of making decisions based on similarity vs. differences; feelings vs. logic; harmony and trust vs. discomfort and wary communications; agreement and liking vs. challenge and dislike. Coaching conversations need to be like a pas de deux, balancing needed support, stretch and challenge without damaging and long lasting antagonism.

Before starting to coach others on conflict management, coaches should reflect and ask themselves the following questions

• What kinds of conflicts have I experienced?
• Nature? Types?
• Root causes?
• Propensity? ( Explore Hogan Development Survey – Derailers)
• Triggers?
• Using a continuum to peg each experience, what have I found easy to handle?
• Different degrees of difficulty?
• The most challenging?
• Why?
• What differentiates the easiest from most challenging conflicts faced?
• To what extent are there still unresolved conflicts?
• Am I currently facing conflicts? If so, what are they?
• How would I describe my current ‘conflicted’ relationship? (What words, phrase, feelings sprint to mind?)
• What’s the level of trust (if it applies, use the Trust Formula (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy / Self (orientation))
• To what extent are they paradoxes (to be balanced because there are no solutions) rather than conflicts which might be resolved?
• What does my conflict management history tell me about
a. propensity towards conflict
b. Bio-reactions
c. how I thrive (paradoxical reactions)
d. impact on my mental state, health, general well being?
• What do I tend to do in the face of different types of conflicts?
• General patterns of reactions and responses? (Coping with amygdala hijack? Thomas Kilmann’s Conflict Management Modes?)
• What works well for me in managing conflicts? Resolving issues?
• What works less well?
• What might I do differently? (Stop doing? Start doing? Do more of? Less of?)
• How can I be more mindful in reacting to conflicts?
• How might I be more effective in my response to conflicts?
• What are my underlying blockers (fears) in conflict resolution?
• Do I want to resolve the conflict? Why? What’s in it for me? The other party?
• Do I really have to? Why?
• How committed am I to resolving the conflict? (Political will)
• What would it take me to resolve the issue / conflict?
• To what extent am I and are they willing to pay the price?
• How might I more pro-actively anticipate and manage conflicts?
• What strategies might I put in place to be more effective?

Once we have reflected on these questions and confronted our deepest feelings about how we handle our own experience of conflicts, we can better empathize and support clients in overcoming their blockers (often rationalized as cross cultural values of preserving face and harmony; not hurting the other party and making the situation worse)

Kim Scott’s Radical Candor points to the need to show deep caring of the person and earning the right to challenge directly. Effective coaching relationships exemplify Radical Candor.

The paradox in what it takes for Radical Candor to work lies in trust. Where the latter is strong, we do not have to couch our words (think of parental feedback and dialogue with loved ones). The extent to which we have to ‘mind our language’ is an indication of the level of trust and intimacy in the relationship we have with the other party.

IGROW (Issues, Goals, Root Cause, Options ,What next) provides a useful structure to explore conflict management It offers ample opportunity for coach and client to identify, clarify and understand the :

• Issues and challenges the client is facing with key stakeholders.
• Client’s goal/s, risk appetite (courage Vs fears and blockers) and political will (is there really a need to resolve the conflict); the paradox of short Vs long term implications and impact.
• Root cause/s (biased views; past baggage; how deep seated, overt, covert, passive, active the manifestation of conflict); situational and political dynamics..
• Options and actions

Coaches can encourage clients to view the situation and relationships through a new lens; re-framing the challenges; clarifying what they really want to get out of the situation and the relationship. Most conflict situations require both coach and client to exercise Whole Leadership (Head, Heart and Guts) in order to determine if constructive outcomes are possible; stimulating creative insights into the upside of the conflict.

Tony Blair who I heard speaking at a Seminar on brokering peace in the Middle East said that we often under-estimate the divisive power of different beliefs, values and historical baggage that the clash of civilizations pose.

Coaches and clients need to be mindful of the dogma of beliefs that shape mindsets and worldviews, sources of insurmountable conflicts. Helping clients conceive of continuums of similarities and differences, for instance between ultra liberalism through to conservatism and orthodoxy may engender some degree of empathy and constructive insights.

Where the will of both parties exists, there are numerous strategies for mitigating and resolving conflicts – from compromise and negotiation, mediation, arbitration through to creative collaboration.

Giving and taking is all about dancing to the music of time (inspired by Nicolas Poussin’s painting and Anthony Powell’s novel).

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