Conflict Coaching

What is Conflict Coaching?

Conflict Coaching is a one-on-one process designed to help individuals more effectively engage in conflict. During a conflict coaching session, the coach helps the individual understand a particular conflict from a different perspective, and assists the individual in finding and assessing options for resolution. A conflict coach can also help an individual learn techniques for more productively engaging in conflict.

Why Should My Company Offer Conflict Coaching?

Let’s face it: Conflict happens. Even the best run companies encounter conflict in the workplace. Competition for promotions, an increased workload, a change in job assignments, fear of lay-offs, are all factors that can lead to conflict. While we cannot avoid conflict, we can learn to better manage conflict. Conflict coaching does just that; it can help employees better manage conflict in the workplace.

Can Conflict Coaching Save My Company Money?

While all would agree that conflict in the workplace is difficult to manage, what is less known is that conflict in the workplace creates significant costs to businesses. Indeed, researcher Daniel Dana, who promotes the use of workplace mediation, has noted that “[u]nresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely unrecognized.” (Dana, Daniel (1999). Based on a review of sociological research, the Centre for Conflict Resolution notes the kinds of costs that can result from unresolved workplace conflict: grievances, litigation, reduced morale, employee turnover, lowered productivity, absenteeism and accidents.

Why Can’t My Human Resources Department Resolve Workplace Conflict?

In some cases, Human Resource Departments can effectively manage conflict, particularly if the HR specialists are well trained. In other cases, however, the employee may not see the HR specialist as a neutral party, and will instead see the HR specialist as biased in favor of management. In such a case, it may be more effective to use a neutral third party to manage the conflict.

How Do I Decide Whether to Use Conflict Coaching or Mediation?

Although conflict coaching and mediation can both be effective in reducing conflict in the workplace, they play different roles. First, conflict coaching is the appropriate choice when only one party to a conflict is interested in having a discussion about the conflict. Since mediation is a voluntary process, the reluctant individual cannot be forced into mediation. Second, conflict coaching is the right choice when an individual needs help in resolving a conflict but is not ready for an actual discussion with the other party. Finally, conflict coaching can be very effective in readying parties for mediation. The coaching process can help parties identify what they are looking to get out of mediation and prepare them for a discussion about their concerns with the other party.

Mediation is the right choice when both parties to a conflict are ready for discussion but are unable to do so on their own. The structure of mediation allows both parties a chance to be fully heard but also keeps the parties moving in the direction of resolution.


How often do you experience conflict at work? According to a poll by Civility in America, 43% of American workers have experienced incivility and 38% say there is increasing disrespect in the workplace. An additional survey, commissioned by CPP, Inc., indicates that employees around the world deal with conflict, on average, 2.1 hours a week, or one day a month. In the US, that number rises to 2.8 hours a week.

When conflict occurs, many of us seek to minimize the conflict by avoiding the person we had conflict with, or by avoiding the situation that led to the conflict. Others — those who are by nature competitive — fight back with anger and hostility, thereby escalating the conflict. Both responses are costly to the employer. The conflict-avoidant employees, by pulling out of the conflict, are depriving their employers of their skills and ideas. The competitive employees who tend to escalate the conflict, are expending time and energy on the conflict rather than on their work. Indeed, according to researcher and psychologist Daniel Dana,  “[u]nresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely unrecognized.”

Remember that conflict by itself is not a problem. Disagreement and conflict open opportunities for growth and new ways of thinking. It is unresolved conflict — conflict left to simmer and boil — that leads to problems for individuals and organizations.

Why is unresolved conflict in the workplace so commonplace? Therapist and mediator, Bill Eddy, believes we live in a culture of blame and disrespect. “[T]elevision, movies, the internet and even newspapers emphasize the misbehavior of individuals more than issues of real substance: Who said what disrespectful statement to whom today? Who walked off a TV show or out of a political meeting?” Another reason for our conflict ridden workplace is that due to our weakened economy, people are having to work longer hours and with greater responsibility, the stress of which can lead to conflict. Finally, the increasing use of teams in the workplace, though a positive development, also creates the possibility of increased unresolved conflict.

Options for coping with conflict in the workplace are several. First, employers should consider offering conflict resolution training to their employees. Learning more about the causes of conflict, the nature of conflict, and techniques for approaching those we are in conflict with, can make a significant difference. Second, conflict coaching — a relatively new option — is a one-on-one process that helps individuals develop strategies and new approaches to dealing with a particular conflict, or with conflict in general. Conflict coaching has been used successfully at Temple University as a supplement to mediation services, and at large corporations such as IBM. Employers should consider offering this option to their employees.

Third, mediation, especially if used early on in a dispute, and prior to litigation being filed, can be a successful and satisfactory dispute resolution process. Mediation is a confidential process in which the parties take an active role in resolving their dispute and reaching a mutually acceptable solution. The process is informal and private. Unlike a judge, the mediator does not impose a particular solution, but rather facilitates the parties’ own communication and helps them create a mutually acceptable agreement. This process is highly cost-effective, especially when compared to the cost of litigation. Costs are reduced because in the case of pre-litigation mediation, there is no need for extensive preparation and presentation by attorneys; nor is there any need for transcripts, post-hearing briefs, or a written decision.

One of the benefits of mediation is that the tools developed in mediation can help the parties approach other disputes in the same fashion. In fact, the potential exists with mediation to transform the groups used in mediation into groups organized for the purpose of resolving other issues in the employee – management relationship.

Research has shown offering employees a variety of options for resolving conflict can improve efficiency in the workplace and improve overall morale. Business owners and organizational managers should consider conflict management training, conflict coaching, and mediation as options for improving the workplace.