April 1, 2023
By Diana Maier
While not apparent at first glance, professional coaching skills can be used in the mediation context as a disruptive process to effectuate resolution.
Coaching skills clarify different perspectives within mediation
One of the central goals of personal coaching is to view a problem or concern from many different perspectives at the same time. This necessarily includes choosing perspectives that disrupt the present narrative about the issue and that, outside of a coaching session, would never be considered. Inevitably, entirely new ways of seeing emerge.
Shades of this approach can be adapted and used in particularly tough mediation sessions to think outside the box and seek resolution in non-traditional ways. While a mediator might not use the same modalities as a coach to get clients to consider a different way of seeing, there is still plenty they can do to generate fresh insight.
For example, they might ask questions that are unexpected, open-ended, and require transformative reflection (called “powerful questions” in coaching.) There are an infinite amount of such questions but some basic ones to start might be: beyond the money, what do you think this lawsuit is about for the other side/entity? What might it mean for them? If you/they could have any outcome you wanted today (apart from money) what would it be?
In other words, a great mediator can play with perspective to allow participants to access the less reptilian part of themselves, not their first urge or feeling, but instead their intuitive, deeper, and more subtle thought and heart processes that engender transformation.
Coaching skills promote active listening within mediation
Another way that coaching can be disruptive to the mediation process is simply by teaching mediators full-bodied and active listening. I often find as a mediator that a party can move beyond their present viewpoint simply by feeling deeply heard and understood. Looping, or reflective listening, can be used as a tool to allow a party to hear for themself what they are presenting as their true interest, and to continue to refine and clarify until what has emerged feels authentic and real: the whole story. The disruptive part of the process can also occur when we then ask the parties themselves to engage in reflective listening with one another. I often use this technique when conducting workplace mediations where the employees are in joint session for most of their time together. By being tasked to repeat back the other side’s narrative, a party is generally able to reach a new place of understanding about the viewpoint of the person they are in conflict with. This serves to humanize the other side as well defuse anger, often circumventing impasse.
Coaching skills allow for more creative and satisfying solutions
In addition, when the two parties take a deeper dive into understanding their own and the other side’s perspective, they often find the solutions that work for them — and they may be something completely different than what the mediator would have predicted or even called fair at first glance. Thus, it is wise for mediators to sometimes use their coaching training to back off from an overly evaluative approach. Instead, they can use the above techniques to elicit the parties’ own wisdom about what serves their interests in the long term and/or what is blocking them now from assessing the situation more holistically.
While not obvious bedfellows, coaching and mediation are both processes that share the idea that people are inherently whole and can find solutions themselves. A facilitator may help the parties along in the process of discovery, but ultimately, they are doing so by using the parties’ own wisdom and interests. Borrowing the coaching process in mediation allows for greater extraction and refinement of these interests until a solution is found. By empowering the parties in this way, mediators have a better shot at providing the parties with the added gift of finding resolution that is satisfying long-term.