Meg complained that her manager was discriminating against her based on her gender. An outside investigator was hired and after multiple interviews, concluded that no discrimination had occurred. Now what? How are Meg and her manager to move forward:? He is angry about her complaint and she feels she was not heard.
This is a situation that may call for conflict coaching.
What is conflict coaching? It’s a process in which a coach comes in and helps two or more employees work through their differences and move forward. Some practitioners call it mediation but to me that term has a legal connotation that doesn’t suit the process.
So when is conflict coaching appropriate? Typically, the coach is called in when the employer’s efforts to intervene have been unsuccessful and interactions between the employees have begun to negatively affect the workplace. As with Meg and her manager, sometimes it occurs after an investigation has been completed and the complainant and accused need to be able to work together again. Sometimes a coach is called in after the employer has handled the problem less than optimally and fences also need to be mended between the employees and management.
How does it work? First, the coach talks to management and reviews any relevant documents: emails, investigative or disciplinary reports, performance reviews, and the like. The coach then interviews each employee, gathering the facts and the employee’s perceptions and feelings around the issues.
Sometimes I will meet with each employee more than once because the goal is not only to understand the facts and issues. It is also to provide coaching in order to help each employee understand what part of the problem they own, where their perceptions may not jive with reality, and what factors outside the difficult relationship might be contributing to the situation. Most important, the coach should also explore with each employee what they need from the other person in order to move forward – and what they are willing to give in return.
After one or more coaching meetings, the coach then brings the parties together for a facilitated conversation. While the past must and does come up, the focus of the meeting is forward-thinking. The goal is to figure out what goals the parties share, what the employer wants from them, what they want their relationship to look like, and how they are going to act if things get difficult or they disagree.
When facilitating, my approach is not to just sit there overseeing the process – I remind the parties of things they told me and share my own observations and suggestions. I also take notes and prepare a short report summarizing the agreements between the parties which I send in draft form to the employees for review and comments. I then finalize the report, send it to the parties, and with their consent, send it to management. Some facilitators will write up an agreement for the parties to sign right during the meeting.
Often, this is the end of the process. In some cases, however, the coach will touch base with the employees some time later to see how things are going. If need be, a second facilitated meeting can occur.
Does conflict coaching always work? Of course not. Some employees are too entrenched in the conflict or too committed to being a victim. In other cases, psychological problems may get in the way. In my experience, however, if the parties truly want to resolve their differences and move forward comfortably, conflict coaching can be very successful.
Have you had experiences with conflict coaching as the coach or a participant? How did it go? ~Amy Stephson