• Dr. Andrew Kitchenham

How does Conflict Coaching compare to Conflict Mediation?

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Today, I would like to discuss the difference between mediation and conflict coaching. Mediation has been defined as “Mediation is a conflict resolution process in which a mutually acceptable third party, who has no authority to make binding decisions for disputants, intervenes in a conflict or dispute to assist involved parties to improve their relationships, enhance communications, and use effective problem-solving and negotiation procedures to reach voluntary and mutually acceptable understandings or agreements on contested issues. The procedure is an extension of the negotiations. Mediation is commonly initiated when disputing parties on their own are not able to start productive talks or have begun discussions and reached an impasse” (Moore, 2014, p. 8). Conflict coaching is “a process in which a coach and client communicate one-on-one for the purpose of developing the client’s conflict-related understanding, interaction strategies, and interaction skills” (Jones & Brinkert, 2008, pp. 4-5). In my practice, I apply, among other methods, what I have coined as the Cha-cha-cha method as I chat with the client in a conversational manner, champion for the client in all aspects of coaching, and I challenge the client when it is appropriate to do so. There are distinct differences between the two approaches, but the overlap is also evident, and most mediators and coaches keep the overlap in mind. I view conflict coaching as “mediation for one” so that I keep the similarities and differences at the forefront.


In mediation, there are two or more clients in the room, usually at the same time and in the same place (physically or virtually). As part of the procedures in mediation, the clients would also learn appropriate communication skills for expressing their views to each during mediation, and maybe, when they leave the mediation room depending on their living arrangements. To that end, the clients tend to rely on the mediator to be the expert in the room and they turn to the mediator for guidance. In most models of mediation, the mediator helps the clients to arrive at a mutually-agreed-upon resolution. In the majority of cases, there is a power imbalance (e.g., financial; resources; coercive; network; referent; information) between the clients that must be addressed and adapted to in the mediation sessions. In mediation, conflict styles might come up but usually it is not a direct part of the mediation sessions. In the majority of cases, there is little to no follow up in mediation once the clients have come to the mutually agreed-upon resolution. Lastly, the time spent in mediation is usually done over a short period of time but include intensive sessions when in the mediation room.


In conflict coaching, there is one client who works with the conflict coach in the same place at the same time (physically or virtually). Like mediation, there is a clear focus on learning appropriate and effective communication skills to be used in the workplace or home so that the client can manage their conflict when the coach is no longer there. The coach may be an expert but that expertise is not something on which the client relies as the focus of the conflict coaching sessions is on uncovering the client’s conflict narrative and learning communication skills: becoming their own expert as part of the coaching sessions so they understand more about themselves (i.e., one story). In conflict coaching, there is no expectation of a mutually agreed-upon resolution since the client is in the coaching sessions to learn more about themselves than coming to a resolution. In conflict coaching, there is no need to directly address any power imbalance (e.g., financial; resources; coercive; network; referent; information) since there might be a power imbalance present but the sessions are much more about learning more about power in conflict than addresses power imbalances. In conflict coaching, conflict styles would be an important part of the coaching sessions since having the client understand better how they address conflict would be an important part of the sessions. In the majority of cases, there is always follow up in conflict coaching once the client has left each sessions to ensure that the client’s goals are progressing and, sometimes, to complete online or written tasks to be discussed at the next session. Lastly, the time spent in conflict coaching is usually done over a long period of time with intensive brief (i.e., 30-90-minute) sessions when working with the conflict coach.


In summary, there are similarities, differences, and overlaps between conflict mediation and conflict coaching. Bearing in mind what each is and what it is not assists the mediator or coach to work with the clients with an extremely specific purpose in mind. There are, however, times when the overlap becomes very clear so that a hybrid, conflict mediation, can occur in which each client in the mediation room has a conflict coach present to assist them in the mediation process by emphasizing the communication skills, goal setting, conflict styles, and the power of caucus. Additionally, conflict coaching works anywhere in the Alternative Dispute Resolution spectrum which demonstrates its clear flexibility and applicability.


Further Reading:


Jones, T. S., & Brinkert, R. (2008). Conflict coaching: Conflict management strategies and skills for the individual. Sage.


Moore, C. W. (2014). The mediation process: Practical strategies for resolving conflict (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass Wiley.


#ConflictCoach, #Mediation, #Conflict

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