• Dr. Andrew Kitchenham

Critical Questions for Perspective Taking in Conflict Coaching – Part 2

Today, I would like to continue the discussion on discuss asking critical questions of yourself as a conflict coach and asking the same questions of your client adapted from Jennifer Brown’s (2019) book, How to be an inclusive leader: Your role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive, for conflict coaching situations.

The questions discussed last week outline the importance of asking yourself the same questions as conflict coach as you would for your client. To remind you, the three questions were: What was your life like growing up?; What hardship (if any), not shared by some of your peers, did you experience in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood?; and, What is an example of feeling the sting of exclusion in your life?.

The questions in this post will follow the same format as last week. Again, the questions are adapted and some are my own that could occur in a pre-coaching session or before or after coaching has begun. Once again, I will lay out how it would assist the conflict coach in asking the questions to themselves and then discuss what it could do for the client.

What is a story that you want to share that reveals a bias you’ve overcome or helped someone else to overcome either in your present or past work life or in your present or past personal life?

For the conflict coach: For the coach, reflecting on an experience that involves a bias in their personal or professional life helps to zero in on the source of many conflicts: someone having a slant—positive or negative—towards another person. The coach can recall biases in their lives, to be sure, but, more importantly, they most likely have ample experiences with assisting others to overcome the bias. In other words, most conflict coaches have assisted their clients in getting past a bias but reflecting on how they did it will certainly help them in future occurrences.

For the client: Many clients have experiences with bias whether they are with bias in their own lives or helping others with bias against themselves or their own against others. It is important that the client tells their story of bias so that there is some degree of distancing. That way, they not only avoid any guilt but also share events that showed getting past the bias. Sometimes the reflection on this story helps the client get past their confirmation bias or as Brown (2019) stated, “the tendency to seek or notice information that confirms your belief and to avoid or ignore information that contradicts what you already think” (p. 126) or releases them from being stuck in a particular position.

Describe an encounter you’ve had with someone different from you that influenced you in a positive manner.

For the conflict coach: Similar to the previous point as this reflection might assist the coach in uncovering and unpacking unconscious bias, this statement is more specific to the influence that someone else had on you that might have or might not have involved bias. If the conflict coach can draw on that feeling and, preferably, deconstruct the experience to see what led to the positive influence, they can leverage that knowledge in their own conflict practice. For instance, the conflict coach might have discussed the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement or of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Calls to Action (in Canada) with friends and colleagues who are Black or Indigenous, respectively. This discussion would affect the conflict coach’s frame of reference so that they can see those perspectives through the eyes of the people most impacted.

For the client: The client might not have thought about or thought through encounters they have had with someone from a different background so this conscious-raising request could make them feel anywhere from extremely uncomfortable to ecstatic to be able to share the narrative with someone else outside their immediate circle of influence. It will also assist them in acknowledging unconscious bias (i.e., social stereotypes or prejudices towards others outside your conscious awareness) as, many times, the positive change they experience is related directly or indirectly to the bias so that they learn something about the person that could change their perspective. A common occurrence is when the client reflects on a LGBTQQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual and/or allied) person as the client has preconceived ideas about a person from any one of these communities and that preconception is amended because of something positive that the person did or said.

As previously argued, critical reflection and critical self-reflection are key components to conflict coaching. Having the coach and the client think on, about, and over critical incidents in their lives helps both parties to understand how crucial their background experiences can be in working through conflict narratives which, in turn, moves the conflict coaching sessions to a new level as it gives coach and client more building blocks built on a solid foundation.

Further Reading

Brown, J. (2019). How to be an inclusive leader: Your role in creating cultures of belonging where everyone can thrive. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

#Conflict, #ConflictCoaching, #PerspectiveTaking, #CriticalSelfReflection

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