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What is Conflict Coaching?

What is Conflict Coaching?

Some argue that Mediation and Coaching are in some ways similar. Yet one industry seems to have flown out the blocks and the other is still trying to get to the start line. Conflict Management Coaching, also known as Conflict Coaching is a niche (a potentially lucrative one) within the coaching world that could provide an opportunity for Mediators to utilise their skills and expertise in another way.

Learn how you can leverage your knowledge, skills and passion for conflict resolution and create a sustainable business in the process and much more in this interview with Cinnie Noble.

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Full Transcript

Aled Davies: Hi everyone my name is Aled Davies, founder of, home of the passionate mediator. This is the place where mediators fresh from mediator boot camp and accomplished mediators come and learn from experienced mediators from around the world. The mediators we interview are incredibly generous with their time. They share their knowledge and experience with you, so that you can learn, grow, and improve your effectiveness. I’m always inspired by these interviews and I want you to be too. So that you can go out into the world, build your own success story. Maybe then you’ll come back onto Mediator Academy and tell your story with my audience.

There are more ways than one to manifest your interest and passion in mediation and build a sustainable business at the same time. My guest today is helping people strengthen their skills and abilities to more effectively engage in conflict and by the way has built a successful business in the process.

Conflict coaching has grown exponentially in many parts of the world and she’s here to talk about conflict management coaching. She’s got over 20 years experience as a mediator; she’s also a lawyer and a coach based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She’s the author of five books and the most recent is entitled ‘Conflict Management Coaching: The Cinergy Model’. She’s developed a unique speciality in the ADR coaching fields. Conflict coaching is a process that is proven successful in many ways and I’m delighted that she’s agreed to come onto Mediator Academy and tell us more about this. Cinnie Noble, welcome to Mediator Academy.

Cinnie: Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure to be here today.

Aled: Cinnie, conflict coaching, what is conflict coaching?

Cinnie: So conflict coaching, also known as ‘conflict management coaching’, which is what I call it usually, is a one on one process for helping people manage their abilities to engage in conflict. So it’s not only people, for instance somebody might want to manage something independently, by themselves, and they want to figure out, ‘What do I need in order to do that? How am I going to be more competent, confident to do that?’ It could be before they’re going to engage in mediation. Sometimes people want to be better prepared to do that and they will retain a coach for that purpose. Sometimes the mediator has coaching skills and prepares people.

Also after conflict, an interesting application is that sometimes after someone’s been in a mediation or conflict of any sort, there’s an aftermath and their resilience is low and they’re seeing that what they’ve done is, what they’ve repeatedly done, and they’re trying to figure out Is there a way that I can become more…, what I often refer to as ‘conflict intelligent’. ‘How might I expand my skills and be better so that in the future I’m better able to manage my conflicts.’

Aled: Okay. So a couple applications, one application is almost like a standalone intervention if you like.

Cinnie: Yes.

Aled: But it sounds like the other application is that you could use conflict coaching to dovetail with a mediation process, you know.

Cinnie: Absolutely. So sometimes in the trainings that I do, there will be mediators that will be there that are wanting to add coaching in order to have, better prepare people. So some people hire coaches who aren’t the mediators. So an individual will hire, I’ve done this actually many times with some people who say, ‘I just feel like I need to be better prepared’, and the mediator doesn’t hold pre-mediation for instance, and increasingly, especially in something like workplace and family estates, mediators will have pre-mediation meetings where they’re preparing people, and they use some forms of coaching. I have a specific model that we’ll talk about that I’ve found very useful. And so sometimes a mediator will help people prepare, but sometimes people will hire a coach separately because there isn’t a pre-process and they’re very concerned about how they’re going to respond and receive certain messages that they expect to hear. They might have a sense of not feeling very confident about themselves, repeated patterns that they know get them into trouble and so they want some help specifically with those kinds of things.

Aled: Okay. A couple of thoughts immediately pop into my mind. You know, I remember training as a mediator, and indeed when I’ve trained mediators I’ve always been a little, I wouldn’t say I was conscious of it at the time, but certainly reflecting back, the mediation process and intervening as a mediator felt a little bit transactional. What I mean by that is it was if we have an expectation that, you know, that when parties arrive at a mediation, you know, they can go through the motions. When in fact, you know, it’s probably the day itself, you know the process, probably one of the most significant experiences one might ever have. So I can really see how it would be beneficial to be able to support or help someone with their thinking in advance of going into a mediation. The question I’ve got is, to what extent then, as a mediator, if we were to offer sort of conflict coaching up front, do we need to distinguish, differentiate between the kinds of intervention that we’re doing?

Cinnie: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. You know, I want to step back though to answer. You know, years ago there was lots of literature around, and I think there still is, about the mediator bias, and I remember speaking years ago at a conference saying, ‘Why would we just put people into a forum without preparing them. Expecting that they’re going to be able to move from hearing what the other person has to say, which is going to offend them, and then be able to think out what they want to do?’

The current sort of trend or wave of neuroscience that people are talking about, and this is something that you might be familiar with yourself, that if I think that people are going to be so reactive when they sit down with one another that they’re not able to move from that pre-frontal cortex, their amygdala, their pre-frontal cortex in a way that they can move to be reflective, and problem solve, and be creative, when they’ve just been emotionally feeling attacked and rejected and all kinds of things.

Years ago I remember being at a conference saying that, and somebody, not saying that because I didn’t have the benefit I do now of more study of neuroscience and understanding the brain. I said, ‘Why don’t we spend more time with people and have them better prepared to go in.’ For instance if you said to somebody, to your clients, ‘What are the three messages you want to make sure the other person is going to hear?’ and you get them more focused. So you spend time, you hear them out, ‘What three things you want to make sure they hear? What do you want to be most prepared for?’, and help people get very intentional about that. I remember at this conference people saying, ‘What about mediator bias? Wouldn’t you get more biased if you are listening to both sides of it?’, and I can tell you from experience you do not. You use the same process for both people, to help prepare them and set their intentions. But this is a little different from coaching. It coaches people for sure.

When you’re coaching somebody in a one to one and you’re not going to see the other person, you are the client’s champion. You are there helping them sort out what they need to do to go into a process that you’re not involved in. There’s a distinction between being one person’s coach, and I don’t think any mediator would ever coach one person and then be the mediator for both, but either you use general coaching principles to help people prepare, if that’s something the mediator could learn to do and wants to, and then go into mediation having listened to it. Letting everybody know you’re going to help them both set their intentions. Or you might as a mediator learn to be a coach and you coach one party, or you coach somebody who isn’t even involved in mediation, but you use it as another tool.

Aled: Okay. That’s interesting. Yeah, I can see how that’s an important distinction, and again, that, you know, as you’re talking, made me think about, kind of the whole idea of impartiality. I much prefer Ken Cloke’s version, which is omni-partiality. You know, we’re rooting for both parties as much as each other, and the idea of boundaries in a coaching relationship.

Cinnie: Mm hmm.

Aled: Do you see those, well, how do you see that playing out?

Cinnie: Well I think it’s probably as Ken Cloke says, and I think that’s how I see it. If you are helping both people get really prepared, then you are not partial for one party. You’re goal is, your objective is to help people do the best they can be.

Aled: Yeah.

Cinnie: So I do see that distinction, and I do see that when, you know some people don’t want to go to mediation, somebody doesn’t show up for mediation. If you’re going to be there as a coach and you learn other skills to help somebody do the best they can to manage it. I think an important distinction in coaching actually, is that not everybody goes to coaching because they want resolve a dispute. Most people go to mediation because they’re hoping to resolve something, but some people go to coaching because they want to have a really hard conversation, which isn’t a pretty conversation and it doesn’t end in, ‘Aren’t we getting along beautifully?’ It ends in, ‘We can’t get along anymore. This has got to stop.’ Performance appraisals, is the perfect thing to coach leaders on. Help people get prepared for what they anticipate could be a really difficult conversation, but it’s not about resolving something. It’s about gaining some skills to engage in that conversation, which is one goal that somebody might have when they go into a coaching forum.

Aled: Yeah. Something you said early actually also got me thinking about, you know, I’m wondering to what extent the skills or the attitude, the mindset, the values of a mediator is well suited to be an effective coach. I mean, is there a lot of crossover? Or is that an assumption that is a dangerous one?

Cinnie: You know, that’s another great question, because I have found that when I’m mediating, I’m mediating. When I’m coaching, I’m coaching. So, you know, it’s being able to wear two hats, and I’m usually called on, a lot of my clients are one to one and whether or not, they’re not necessarily going to mediation at all.

I think there’s a little bit of a myth around where coaching fits. That if you’re a mediator that you have natural skills. Loads of the same skills are there, and many mediators come with those, and they’ve been trained in them, and they’ve got innate intuition. There’s lots of great stuff happening. But in coaching you learn some other skills about asking possibility questions. You know, opening up people’s thinking so that they’re doing more thinking for themselves about how they’re planning, what they’re going to do. It’s building internal capacity and very focused on the client’s goal.

Mediators tend to think, ‘This person needs to resolve this, or has to have a better relationship, and how can I lead them there?’, and that’s a bit of what happens when you’re in the field a long time is everything is around trying to resolve it. I think that one of the things I wanted to add, it occurred to me Aled, when we talked about mediators. Mediator training does not include, generally, self-reflective work, and helping mediators be very competent themselves at managing conflict. I, interestingly, have a lot of mediator clients and lawyer clients who are not managing conflict well. They’re out there doing stuff and they might even be in a mediation and then they find themselves calling me afterwards saying, ‘You know what? I knew I was really biased. I could tell, and I was really reacting to what somebody was saying. I really question my own skill here’, so lots of people stepping up saying, ‘Maybe I need to have stronger conflict management skills myself.’ including many lawyers who are constantly in the eye of conflict and going to court and other kinds of things as well, themselves, but aren’t managing it well. Realise that you’re trained in this forum, whether it’s law, or mediation, and yet you yourself don’t have that conflict management skill.

Aled: Yeah. How is that different from supervision, let’s say. You know, I’ve done a mediation. I’ve been troubled by my reaction towards one party, or concerns about, you know, I’ve been unfair, or biased in some way. I might share that with a supervisor, try to unpick where I’ve gone off course, that..

Cinnie: Right.

Aled: … Is that similar, different to coaching?

Cinnie: You know I think the field of supervision is an incredible one that’s needed in, and it’s very strong in the coaching field. I don’t think it’s really strong all around the world of the mediators that are trained. I think that if you asked the average mediator ‘Who is your supervisor?’ they wouldn’t have one. And a lot…

Aled: What’s a supervisor? I think is…

Cinnie: Well, yeah, and I think that not all training comes with it. Not all training has a process that says ‘Are you able to do this and overcome some of your own stuff’, and,when you run into it what you do about it, and I think a lot of that goes unspoken. People might have their own friends or their peers but I don’t think the concept of supervision is strong enough in the mediation field.

In coaching you have to have coaching to become certified. For six months you have to have a coach in order to deal with your own personal and professional foundation and I think that we maybe missed a little bit about strengthening people’s core around how they manage conflict before they’re actually doing it. So things like bias and other worries that might come up. As people are thinking, ‘Whoa, can I really do this? Coach people, both people?’ I think have to go to some of that ability to stand back, to not lead, to not be judgmental, to not use your own stuff, and those are pretty strong skills to learn and we don’t all come with them.

Aled: Yeah, you’ve touched on a bit of a hot button for me actually, mediator training. I don’t believe it comes anywhere near good enough to equip a mediator, you know, not just to kind of manage the process, but you know all the other stuff. Boy, it’s, you know, I can really see the value in, for example learning to become a coach, a bit like, you know becoming a psychotherapist I guess. You have to be on the other end of the receiving end just to have that experience, but also to understand any blind spots you might have, all your sort of prejudices, and projections, and all that sort of interesting…

Cinnie: That’s right…

Aled: …interesting stuff

Cinnie: …and in the coaching field, before you get certified you need to have put in a number of hours, a certain number of hours. So unlike, you know, because a lot of mediators, there’s certification out there that it is after you finished a course, and I know that’s been bandied about for as many years that I’ve been in the field. I think it’s a challenge. I’m not saying the coaching model is the only one, because conflict management coaching, people can take a four day training and will go out and start to do it. So I’m pretty conscious, I must say, being one of the trainers, to say you know, ‘Maybe we need to not repeat what we do in mediation’, which is do we need to make sure we have standards of practice and that we’re at this end of it, you know.

Aled: Well, you know, you raise a good question there, Cinnie. Because let’s just look at sort of the executive coaching/coaching field for one moment, and kind of draw parallels with the mediation field. Coaching has taken off big time in the last ten years, and mediation, which you could argue is somewhat similar in terms of, you know, a process. It’s a process where you engage with someone through a conversation and encourage them to reflect and so on. Yet, one has taken off massively, the other one hasn’t, well I’m speaking in the UK. I wonder to what extent that the rigour that you might encounter in training to become a coach contributes to that credibility and that service being valued by people. Whereas mediator, anyone can train to be, anyone can become an accredited mediator, pretty much, I mean you know.

Cinnie: I’ve given this a lot of thought because as a mediator for a long time, and loving the field, I noticed when I entered the coaching field, lots of people get trained as coaches, and don’t get certified. Lots of people call themselves coaches, they’ve never been through a training. It’s frightening in some ways, but lots of people get trained in 40 hours and call themselves mediators and may not have the skills. So I think the same thing can happen in coaching as well. I do think there’s more rigor. I think the coaching field has, they accredit schools and the schools have to go through pretty vigorous applications, and they have to include all the core competencies. It’s really a quite intensive application. So schools apply, and then if they’re accredited because they meet the core competencies, then they’re listed on, for instance, the International Coach Federation.

There are many coach organisations, in fact the UK has a great association for coaching. Lots of rigour about what you need to go through before you come out certified. So those of us who have gone through that process really get it, and really understand what the importance is, and can more easily speak to coaching as being the field it’s developed into. I think the coaching field has done a really great job, not only of making sure that they’ve got the requirements to become certified, and that people take it pretty seriously. But also that they put it out there. That they grow the coaching field by putting it out there as being what it is, and what it can do, and how it can help, and that there are all these specialties. They do everything I think to put it in people’s faces. I think the ADR field really could use that kind of marketing, public relations. We can train all the mediators in the world and if they don’t have business, they don’t have work out there, maybe there is some way that the organisations need to stand behind the field and figure out ways to get it out there in a way that I don’t think we’ve been very successful at.

Aled: Yeah, unfortunately the organisations just can’t agree on anything, or can’t get on. That’s the irony, right?

Cinnie: It is the irony, indeed.

Aled: So, you know, if we think about people’s general resistance to mediation, but think about how one could utilise conflict coaching to encourage someone. Not necessarily to encourage them to mediation, but to get them to a place where they can make better choices. Can conflict coaching be used in that context?

Cinnie: So, I’m trying to think of, I think because I’m so used to separating that some people just want coaching and they don’t want mediation, and that to push it on somebody who says, ‘Look I’d like to figure out how to do this by myself and build some durable skills’, that I think we have to be careful about putting mediation as, ‘Well here’s one thing you could sit with the other person’, and even though we know that that’s a really good process, it isn’t for everybody. I think it’s a matter of being able to offer choices to people. You know, ‘You could do this and I can help you if that’s something you try to do on your own. If not, you can look at mediation if you want, or you can do mediation instead.’

I think it’s a matter of in tandem, instead of, it’s options. Conflict management coaching to me opens up another tool for mediators to use if they want to be trained in it and know how to apply it. Think about, even if you start to learn how to help people be more effective at mediation, we’re going to strengthen mediation. If people can walk away saying ‘It’s a really great process’, and I don’t know that people are saying that because we don’t get to follow up very much, right? That’s not the sort of evaluation thing that happens in all cases. That we’re able to figure it out.

Aled: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting. Also, you know, if I think about, from time to time I work with a coach and I don’t work with a mediator. It’s kind of a one off product on would hope that only one mediator, you know once you’ve had an experience of going through litigation and ended up in mediation you think, ‘I don’t want to do this again.’

Cinnie: Right.

Aled: Whereas with coaching you come out the other side with such a positive experience, one would hope. You know, achieving goals, articulating goals, you know coming up with some real practical strategies to move closer to your goals, and that’s something that you’d want to utilise time after time. So I mean in fact I can see as a service or a product, conflict coaching being far more, being able to build a far more sustainable business as a conflict coach.

Cinnie: You know, I find that my business, I was very fortunate with mediation and I had a huge business going, and I was really thrilled. Part of that I think is because early on I started to use what I didn’t even know was coaching, but I really went into the pre-mediation idea pretty early on. So I had lots of success and got more referrals that way, because I saw a different kind of success happening when people felt more confident and comfortable. Those same people would refer people to me. So I’m a huge proponent of mediation. I think there’s absolutely a place for it. What I find about coaching that is really interesting, is that because of the place it’s taking around the world as being a coaching model, a leadership coaching.

It’s so common for people to have a coach, and so one of my clients told me one day that she was at lunch with a bunch of people, other executives, she’s fairly high up in a hospital, and she said they were all talking about their coach. It’s not a stigma, it’s like, ‘What are you working on?’ People are sharing it in a way that you don’t sit around saying, ‘How was your mediation?’. but that alone, the idea of how it’s grown, I think, has helped it. I think when it comes to conflict management coaching we need to be creative about how to introduce it.

One of the reasons, actually, I shifted conflict coaching to conflict management coaching is that people seem to understand the concept of conflict management, those words have been used around a lot, and coaching added to it. It was so interesting how that changed for me, and I’m not saying it’s for everybody, but people got it. So, that, for instance I’ve worked at organisations where when somebody is named a leader in an organisation that they get six months coaching of any, if they want a specialty or just leadership coaching, and if somebody comes with, ‘Well I’m having trouble with conflict’, it’s not a shame if they say, ‘Conflict management coaching, that’d be good’. So you’ve got people looking at, ‘How am I going to get even better’, and that, to refer to what you were saying earlier, that more positive look at outcome seems to have an influence on the growth of that field. At least in my experience. It’s grown amazingly, beyond the vision.

Aled: Yeah, I mean it’s interestingly, it seems you know people talking, comparing coaches. You know, it’s as if it’s, you know, embedded in the culture of an organisation to, you know if you hit a certain level, and you know how are you going to really develop, really sharpen your skills, really address some of the blind spots so you can be effective. Well you’ve got to work with a coach, obviously. There’s no sort of generic training course that’s going to help you address your foibles, your frailties, your blind spots in a way that a coach could you know very…

Cinnie: Right.

Aled: …focused. A bit like, I don’t like this analogy, but it’s, you know, the shotgun approach, or the, you know the sniper rifle approach.

Cinnie: Right, that’s right.

Aled: It’s an old [inaudible].

Cinnie: Carrot or stick. But you know, we talk about organisationally, which is really important and there was a recent Harvard Business Review article that said that CEO’s, the kind of coaching they want, most of the majority, a high number, I don’t know, I think it was the majority percentage, wanted something to do with conflict management. Very important for those of us doing it, but it does apply to any time that somebody is dealing with conflict. Whether it’s families, or communities, or anything where somebody is trying to figure out, get more confident to find their way through conflict.

Aled: Yeah. Another thought that just came into my mind actually. You know, thinking about, so you’ve got sort of coaching as a generic skill, service or whatever. You have conflict coaching or conflict management coaching which is, you know, a thin slice, it’s almost, you know you’re drilling down into a very specific area of knowledge. I suppose another example would be strategy coaching. Coaching a leader on business strategy or whatever.

Then you’ve got, you know, you think about mediation, there’s been an argument going around and it’s still going around that you don’t need to have any content expertise, you know a good mediator could mediate any dispute. I used to believe that. I don’t anymore. I think, actually it’s really helpful to have specific content expertise. You know, if you’re going to do IP disputes, you know if you’ve got background in IP, knowledge expertise in IP then I think you can add value as a mediator, providing that, you’re mindful of bias and all the other sort of phenomena that could consume you in the course of a mediation.

Now, you know, where you’ve got coaching, and I think this is really interesting, all of a sudden if you’re brand is a conflict management coach, and it’s really easy to stand out from the crowd, right?

Cinnie: There are a lot of specialties in the field of coaching. So everything from weight loss coaching to adult ADD, so there’s a whole lot, and this is just one. I think what’s important is, and I think this is going to be a debate as conflict management coaching grows. You don’t need to be a mediator to do this work. Lots of coaches are dealing with all kinds of issues. When it comes to conflict they get trained because I think this is one area that I’m not comfortable with. Mediators and people in the ADR field have some very natural understandings of conflict dynamics, and they’re used to high emotions, so they’re used to a range of things. A lot of people are. So they come with some skills that coaches don’t have.

Some people will say, ‘You know you need to know conflict dynamics’, so the model that I have people learn a certain conflict analysis, whether or not they’re mediators, they learn it beautifully. So, it’s for me that you can learn to be a conflict management coach without having a conflict management background. You do have a leg up though, if you’re a mediator or have an ADR background because of the training that you’ve already had. Some of the skills are very much the same and others aren’t, but I think some of it is that people who have got some training have a sense of getting conflict.

If they’ve been around a bit, and if they get it, and they’re not themselves, upset by it. Then there is something that they have going for them. I will say that sometimes whenever I am going to start a class and I’ve got mediators and coaches, and other people in there I’ll say, ‘You know right now, to try to empty your mind’, because what happens is mediators, particularly, try to fit it into a mediation model. They try to make it about issues and positions and that’s really not always where people are coming from and their goals, as I said, aren’t all about resolution.

So I think I rambled on about what your question was. But I think that there’s just a whole range of what you do as a specialty that if you get to do it, one of the things that I find as really helpful, having a specialty, is it means I will write and speak about it. That I can market myself in a way that coaches who do generic coaching aren’t able to do. Which is what I think mediators are able to do as well.

Aled: Yeah, I think where I wanted to go with this sort of enquiry, was something you said earlier about sort of neuroscience. I remember an interview I did on Mediator Academy with John Sturrock, a lovely man. John’s a mediator, he’s also a barrister, but practices solely now as a mediator. He was talking about how he would sit down and have a breakfast with the parties. The start of all of his mediation, he gets the parties sitting around the table and they talk about anything except the dispute. John talks about things like you know, the amygdala and he talks about advances in neuroscience to try and normalise some of the thinking, and some of the feelings and behaviours that the parties might be experiencing. So he’s imparting some knowledge in the context of conflict. So thinking about the coaching, if you have some expertise in conflict, do you use that and bring that into the conversation? Or again, are you just process facilitating the conversation?

Cinnie: Yeah, you know, I think it depends on the client. The process that I have that seven stages moves people out incrementally, and I tell them that, and I describe what’s going to happen, what’s the process is all about. I never thought that I would be so process driven. Coaching is a very fluid process, you know be where the client is, dance with the client, you know, that kind of language and philosophy. What I learned early on in the research that I did is that many people really valued a structure because they felt unstructured, they felt chaotic, and so moving people from where they are to where they want to be incrementally, helps people focus. Focuses their brain, focuses their goals, and you can take away some of the stuff that goes on out there if you keep them on board. It was contrary to what I expected.

I figured you could go all over the place, because that’s where they were and that you would help bring them back. What I have found is that that step by step, when people start to get momentum and they get going, that moves them. Having said that, some people will want, you know, ‘Why am I always, you know I get so defensive when this happens’, and so explanations about what you know about the brain. I might send people an article about it, I’ve done that frequently. I don’t see, I think coaches can be educators as well. My own model is one that, if it’s to be compared to anything that we talk about mediation, it’s much more transformative in nature. That it’s all about self-reflection. Helping people help themselves. So at no time, does the coach trained in my model say, ‘Have you tried this? What do you think about this? Here’s, this is where, ‘Here’s some conflict management principles.’ You might suggest books or whatever, but I don’t think anybody, whether you’re trained or not, in conflict management can say what you, Aled, need to do about your situation, that you’ll need to figure it out for yourself. I think the more directive we are, even though we might have read the books and know the theory, I think it does a disservice to helping people figure out what works within their context, or culture, or their subjective, their context in which they live, and play, and work.

So what I’ve found in the research was that people hated being told what to do. They found it offensive, and it’s like adult learning principles, you know, do you really tell people what to do when they’re adults, and one of philosophies of the, yes in some places that’s what we think people expect. In the research, people said that, ‘Yeah I might expect it, but I actually hate when people say it, tell me what to do’, and what I’ve found is that people can figure it out by themselves. So the philosophy of the International Coach Federation is that people, that coaches think of people as being creative, resourceful, and whole. If you can have that mindset and stop the judgment that thinks,’Well know they really can’t do it because they don’t really know how to say this or do that’, but help people figure out what’s going to work for them with the person they’re trying to do something with. Because they know them better than you do. You build their ability through self-reflection and questioning that helps them figure it out. They rehearse, they figure out what they’re comfortable with, what they get confident with. It’s their life. I think that’s the piece that I think is a really important part. That to be careful about how much you provide education that is unwelcomed. It might be interesting, but a degree, a limit on it.

Aled: Yeah. It’s interesting, when we think about being directive in mediation, you know sometimes, and it often catches me out when a party would say, ‘Honey what do you think I should do?’ Uhhh-umm.

Cinnie: Yeah right.

Aled: And I guess the same in coaching, although maybe, do you experience that? Do they say…

Cinnie: Oh sure.

Aled: …’Cinnie, what do you think I should do, you’re the expert.’ What’s your reaction to that? How do you handle those?

Cinnie: Yeah, my reaction is usually, ‘You’re the expert on you, and what I would do and what you would do would be two different things. I’m just anxious to help you figure out what’s going to work for you here, and that’s my role’. You know what? For me one of the beauties is that when you make it all about the client, and not about you, they thrive. They have a space, a place where they start thinking, ‘Someone’s actually listening to me. Trusting that I’m going to figure it out. Sees me as resourceful and able’, and the skills that come out, and I follow up with clients, I’m not going to say this 100% of the time, but I would tell you that at a very high percentage people say that the thing that they valued most about coaching was that they felt trusted to be who they really wanted to be, and needed to be, and could be. And they weren’t following ‘shoulds’ of theirs or other people’s, and I think that that’s so valuable.
Years ago there was a psychologist, and I can’t think of his name but he said something about ‘shoulding on people’, and I think that…

Aled: [inaudible] and then you stand in a whole pile of should.

Cinnie: That’s right. I think that that’s what happens when it comes out of a practitioner’s mouth it can be felt like a should of that person’s rule book, ‘Not my rule book. Not how I live, and when I walk away from here that’s not going to work’, but some people are going to defer to the practitioner and think, ‘They must know what’s right. I should ask them’. I think it’s that fine line between, now my philosophy is different from other, other people think that is the role, you’re a conflict management specialist, you can advise people and tell people, and that’s going to be one of the divisions in how, you know, the kinds of conflict management coaching that evolve. I think it’s fine for the people that believe in that and want that philosophy and those doing my work will do that, we’ll do it differently.

Aled: I mean, oh I’ve got a number of questions in my mind. One, which I’ll come back to. But thinking about a different philosophy, it sounds like the coaching world has enough room to hold all these different philosophies without judging which philosophy is right, better. You know, if I kind of look, well that’s an assumption I’m making, is that right?

Cinnie: You know the coaching field is generally very client driven, very goal-, That would be a basic premise that people would have. In fact, the basic premise, the framework is something to the effect of you know the client comes in, this is where they want to be. Coaches coach the gap. In order to do that, it’s can the client have a different perspective than they did when they came in, in order to do something different, whatever that is, and it applies to conflict management coaching too. Can they get a different perspective? And once they do what other kinds of choices do they have, than they initially thought they had? What are their options? And what are the action steps needed to get there? And what’s going to get in their way?

So coaching has a basic framework, but there are definitely coaches who are specialised. I have a colleague who’s a food coach and she knows everything about nutrition, and included in her coaching is information. There are other people that will do-, and more guidance, and more directiveness. So while there is a philosophy of creative, resourceful, and whole there are lots of coaches who would say, ‘This is an area that I know about. I can help this person by giving them some direction around that.’ So there are degrees of it. I go to the one extreme on it, that I’m not going to give that advice.

Aled: Yeah, well, I mean, here’s where I struggle with that, is you know, you might have someone who’s a food coach, and they have expertise in nutrition, but what nutritional philosophy? I mean there are, is it kind of Paleo diet, is it Atkins diet, is it, you know what are your beliefs systems that drive that interest in nutrition? That’s where I struggle. Having said that if, I think it would be okay if you were transparent and said, ‘Look I’m a food coach. I’ve got expertise in this field in nutrition. I believe that this is going to help you achieve your goals quicker than anything else. There’s lots of other philosophies out there. Make your mind up.’

Cinnie: Do you know one of the most responsible things I think a coach does, and can do, and most of us I know do this, my colleagues. Is if somebody contacts me and says you know, ‘I’ve heard that you do conflict management coaching’, I’ll say, ‘ You know what it’s a really important relationship. I’m going to give you names of a few other people. Check all of us out. See what we do, what works for you, what connects for you, what we say? Here’s some questions to ask. What’s your philosophy?’ You know all of those kinds of things. I think it’s a smart thing to do, and I think people will go with who they feel the most connection with and that’s so integral to successful coaching.

Aled: Yeah. Wow that’s interesting. Yeah. I want come back to something you said about making the process all about the client and not yourself. Did you say something like that?

Cinnie: Well the process, the Cinergy process is the process, but it’s all about the client’s journey so that’s where the coach doesn’t intervene with, ‘Have you thought of…? What about this?’ It’s really just helping the client walk through the process, and help them go through it.

Aled: Okay. I mean we talk about the Cinergy model in the master class. I mean I’m curious about the, I suppose the commercial side of it really, the business model of a coach. I mean how does a coach, I mean we all know how a mediator should make money, although there are many mediators that don’t make any and that’s another problem, but what’s a typical business model of a conflict management coach?

Cinnie: I think that’s a really hard one to answer because it’s so different from person to person and how much of their practice they would want to have conflict management coaching. You know, one thing that they don’t train most of us in is, whether you’re a mediator, or a lawyer, or a coach, is entrepreneurship, and I think selling ourselves, selling the process that we do is so important, and we all do it quite differently, and our business cases are different. So I do a lot of training. I do a lot of writing. I design conflict management coaching programmes for organisations, and I have a coaching clientele, and I still do some mediation.

The business case for me was variety, and how do I have variety? That’s partly my need, but to sell this initially, it was like 1999 and coaching was taking off but it wasn’t what it is today. And so, you know, some of it is thinking about how do you market, how do you put yourself out there? I don’t think we all come with that very naturally. I think because I had been in business before, I had some marketing skills that I had learned by trial and error, not because I had a budget to do it. So I think the business, I do think people, it’s important to be very clear about the business case. You know, build it and it will happen. So it’s how do people choose how much of their practice they want to do what in. Then what they’re going to do. One of the things in coaching is that there’s lots of ideas, like we have classes about it all the time, and there’s such a huge range of virtual tele-seminars that are done through the ICF and other schools, other organisations that people can tap into, ‘What do I need to learn here?’ So whether it’s using social media, and it’s really getting, it uses the framework of coaching. Where do you want to be? You know, what’s your goal? And, what don’t you know now? And if you use the same old stuff you always have and it’s not worked, it’s not going to work now.

So it’s learning and getting a coach, getting a marketing coach, or doing, getting very clear on what your plan is and then figuring out what you need to develop in order to do it. Because we’re not all naturally speakers, or writers, and those are two great ways of getting clients, but they aren’t going to suit everybody. So I have found that some people will do things like they will go and take public speaking even though they never thought they would. You know, some of it is, ‘What’s your intention?’ If you really want to get out there, what do people need to hear?

One of the things that, I can remember one of the gurus in the coaching field, his name was Thomas Leonard and he died an untimely death in his late ’40s. He was an incredible force in the coaching field, and he would say things like, ‘Write 100 people. You know100 people. Write 100 people, and say, ‘Look this is what I’m doing, do you know anybody who might be interested in this and please let me know’, and I thought boy that seems pretty ballsy, is it something that I would do around that. So I wrote about 20 people and a good percentage of people said, ‘Oh sure that’s great, well I know so and so who works here, and I know…’ People like helping people, and it’s just we have a bit of trepidation, many of us, about can I put myself out? Can I ask for something? And I think it’s how you overcome some of that and then look at what is it that you want to do, and how do you want to step up, and stand out.

Aled: Yeah. You know, we talked in the pre-interview and variety definitely is an important value of mine. I just couldn’t do the same thing over and over again. I’ve got to have variety in my life otherwise I’ll just get bored really quickly. So, you know, that’s part of my criteria when I’m choosing work projects, but you know I can see someone watching this now who’s trained as a mediator, struggling to find mediation assignments, but thinking, ‘You know what, actually, I used to work for a big blue chip.’ You know, for example, you know, not wanting to stereotype, but I would imagine most HR professionals are, you know economic buyers of coaching services. Is that a fair assumption to make?

Cinnie: Mmm-hmm.

Aled: Yeah. You know, and also I know of many HR people that have left that field, trained to become mediators in the hope that their, you know, their HR background would lend itself well to workplace mediation, but we know it’s a desert out there, with tumbleweed rolling around the place. So someone watching this now thinking, ‘Actually you know, this is something I could utilise my mediation skills and tap some of the contacts and some of the experience that I’ve already got.’

So how do you go from becoming a mediator to becoming a conflict management coach? What are the steps? How long does it take? What’s involved? What’s the commitment, Cinnie?

Cinnie: It really depends on, you know, there’s conflict management coaching training that I do, other people do, it isn’t sufficient on its own. Three or four days. People need to practice and practice. Most of us have our own certification process, which means in my case anyway, you have to coach one of the competency assessors to see if you know the model well enough. It’s all based on can you use this model. There are people who take up this process that will go on to take coaching.

So I have a lot of coaches that will take the training because they’re already certified or they’ve gone through some rigour and some training, or mediators that do and most people are responsible enough to know that they have to practice five to seven, eight times before they’re even going for certification. But there are people that go through the process that don’t go through a certification, and then they are basing their coaching on a model that they learn or doing twists and turns of it because they’re going to make it their own. Similarly, not being trained at all, which is not my recommendation. I think people need to be able to distinguish them.

The coaching field is sophisticated enough and people who are the buyers of it at the organisational level, will ask, ‘What training have you got?’ It’s increasingly, the requests for proposals that I’ve done in recent years all ask if I’m certified by the International Coach Federation or other international organisation. It’s more than you ever, I never had to do that with mediation. I don’t think I can think of one, a handful, if any, have requested, ‘What’s your certification? Where from?’ And, but they do, they have, I’ve found in the coaching field-, and I think that it’s smart to get proper training and to get whatever certification the school that you go to for conflict management coaching does in order to say, ‘This is what I’ve got.’ For instance, in the training that I do, and I don’t mean to be selling mine…

Aled: No.

Cinnie: …because I think this is an important interview on its own. Because I’m a certified coach, I applied to the International Coaching Federation to get continuing education units for my course. They accredit a whole lot of schools but they don’t do the niches. So people who have the niches, people will get continuing education units so that coaches can use them. If you’ve been through the process which is itself rigorous as well and get [inaudible 50:03] accepted, then you can say well ‘That specialty has been acknowledged as reaching standards which include the core competencies of an international organisation.’ So I would choose ones that have got that rigour to it, whether it’s ICF or other, but that it’s been acknowledged the kind of competencies that coaches are concerned about.

So the movement to that I think it’s like mediation though, Aled. I think that there’s no guarantee of work. Maybe people have heard of coaching and they see it more proactive and they like the idea. It’s as competitive as everything else is, so there’s not a shoe in.

Aled: Yeah, No. I mean it’s as competitive as, you know, and I imagine the kind of supply and demand equation is a very different [inaudible 50:56] mediation at the very least. I mean in the UK, there aren’t, the demand for mediation isn’t growing at a tremendous rate, but the number of qualified mediators entering the field is staggering each year, you know it’s scary really. It’s as if they’re kind of building an army, ready in the hope that there’s going to be one almighty clash.

But what’s interesting about the coaching is, you know you talked about coaching, the competency assessors in your model. In mediation, I think, people are desperate for experience, right? They, you know, people are even paying, people are even charging for people to come and watch them mediate. Which I find an absolute disgrace, but that’s another story. Whereas in coaching I can imagine phoning a half a dozen of my mates up and saying, ‘Look, I’m training to become a coach. Fancy some free coaching to help you achieve a goal?’ Yeah, it’s a no brainer right?

Cinnie: It’s a no brainer. When I first started and I was doing generic coaching before I developed the model. I went to a network group that I belonged to and I said, ‘Anybody want to be coached? You know I have four hours per person, one hour a week for the next four weeks. If you want to sign up.’ There were 22 people there, 18 people called me. I got fabulous experience, and then I got more and more and I understood, and then once I developed the model I did the same thing. And absolutely the more experience, the more comfortable you’re going to get with it, and I think it’s a matter of, remember what I said earlier? Is that coaching can happen before, or during, or after conflict. It’s a more proactive process so the selling of it needs to be, not ‘Gee, you’ve had a dispute I can come in’, which is fine, but you know, if you’re having some rumblings going on, this is a proactive approach. And one of the things I can do is help whomever’s having that challenge see if they can work it out better, be more strong, be stronger at what they’re doing, and more effective at what they’re doing. So that it doesn’t escalate.

So HR and other people get wind of those things all the time, and so if you can have, if you’re talking about workplaces, if you can have that kind of conversation. One of my colleagues and I were talking about, one of the important ways of selling this in organisations is to say, ‘If I could provide a service that’s going to save you money would you be interested in that?’ who wouldn’t, and, ‘Why don’t we look at the cost of conflict in the past year’. and do some formula, whatever that is.

Sometimes I do a very basic formula in a group if I’m doing training, where I’ll say you know, ‘How much time have you spent in the last month on talking about conflict at work, with a co-worker, with, you know whatever and add that up, a simple equation and how much of that is a percentage of your income. How much money have you spent on it?’ Simple equation, there’s lots of formulae that are out there. If people knew that that could save then it would be better, and can you guarantee it? No. It’s like everything else you can’t guarantee it, but if you take a more proactive approach around it, and one of the ways I do this as well, if I’m called in to do conflict management training in an organisation I say, ‘Well my training comes with coaching actually. So I will do a generic training if that’s what you want, but to apply it. Everybody, what I’d like to do is offer everybody has, you know six sessions, whatever the budget is. So that when they have their own individual idiosyncratic issues around dealing with conflict that they’ve got somebody where they can base the principles on.’ Now a lot of organisations won’t do that, won’t spend the money.

I have come to a point where I’m thinking, ‘Do I really want to do training that you know that if people don’t really figure out how to do it?’ I would rather spend my time getting into the guts of things with people than to do a generic training. But if you are in a position, where you don’t, you know I’m lucky to say, yeah I can say no to that, because it doesn’t really fit with what I’m trying to do. But if you can start to learn how to do coaching, and if your asked to do training, even mediation training, to say ‘This is what I offer ongoing, and this is how much it is’, or include it in the cost in places. I think we’re going to have better participants. People that are actually going to embed more of the learning than they do from a half day or a day programme.

In fact there were statistics, some years ago that said that training followed by coaching had a higher rate of people learning and embedding the learning that they’d had. So I think there’s something, I think there’s other ways to use that people can be looking at how they’re going to develop their business.

Aled: Yeah, I mean it’s also, you know when you talk about being proactive, it strikes me as an easy sell in a way. You know it’s more of an attractive proposition for an organisation. I suppose nobody likes to imagine that they’re going to have lots of employment disputes, or grievances, or even happy to disclose that to someone.

Cinnie: Right. No, it’s true.

Aled: But when you think about you know, how much time are you preoccupied with dealing with conflict or thinking about it?

Cinnie: No, exactly. You know I’m going to take this a bit further from organisational, because that is most of what I do. In collaborative family law, in estates, you know I got called a couple weeks ago from somebody who said you know, ‘We’re having to move our mother into a nursing home. The siblings are all having an issue about it. I want to be able to…’, this is a client saying to me, ‘I want to have a conversation with my siblings. I know it’s going to go off the rails.’

They were going to go into a mediation, but she had specific issues about it. Some may never go into mediation, either they’re just trying to figure it out, but if they hear about it. There are so many issues in elder mediation, estates, family that people who’ve got what they have in coaching could be helping people in a way that we haven’t imagined, and it’s often difficult conversations, which is work you do, and you can see it if you help somebody do that. But we don’t promote it in a way. I actually am not fussy about the conversation difficult because I think you’ve already put a label on it. Talk about your brain going, ‘Oh it’s difficult’, but what else, you know, those conversations that people are having challenges with. It’s the perfect forum for coaching people.

Aled: That’s very interesting. You know, I know a mediator who handles a lot of very wealthy estates. He does sort of, the legal bits and pieces for very wealthy estates, and I remember him telling me some of the meetings, family meetings that he would have to sort of facilitate and all of the sort of conversations he would be having with all the members the family, independent of each other, and you know, trying to support them and help them, and you know, I can see that being a really, you know…

Cinnie: Oh, totally.

Aled: …a very specific intervention.

Cinnie: Family businesses, I have a good friend of mine who does coaching and mediation and she does a whole, you know you can do a whole model of different kinds of things around this, so it’s to the degree that you can help people with their own issues, much less them as a group. There’s incredible application.

Aled: Cinnie, this has been really, really interesting, you know I’m hoping people watching this interview now, look if you’re a mediator and you’ve watched time pass by since your mediation training. You’re feeling frustrated, disillusioned, you haven’t had many mediations. Think about becoming a conflict coach, why not, conflict management coach. You know it might open a whole raft of opportunities for you. Cinnie if people want to find out more about the specific conflict management training that you and your organisation provides, which sounds like it’s all over the world right?

Cinnie: Mm hmm.

Aled: How do they do that? Where can they find out more?

Cinnie: So the website is www.cinergy C-I-N-E-R-G-Y So C-I-N people kind of miss that sometime because of the turn of phrase, but C-I-N-E-R-G-Y…

Aled: I’ve got it.


Aled: Just to make sure I put the link underneath the interview.

Cinnie: Okay.

Aled: So someone just needs to click on it and they can be transported to your website.

Cinnie: Okay.

Aled: And where in the world can people access this training?

Cinnie: Well the training is a training in Ireland, and the UK, Australia, there has been training in France, and Poland, not recently, U.S. and Canada, different parts of the U.S. and Canada. And I do train, and the group in Australia also do training in New Zealand. I do a tele-course now because there are people from all over the world, in fact I had somebody from South Africa on the last one, and another person from a part, in Europe in Spain, so people come from all over on the tele-courses, and that’s all done by phone, it’s not a webinar. And that’s in the last few years, and that’s developed incredibly for people who can’t get to a place to do the coaching and to get the training.

Aled: That’s interesting. Again something else that you don’t have to be in the same room, you can do this remotely.

Cinnie: Yeah, and it seems counterintuitive, but you know in fact a lot of coaching is done by phone, and so if people get used to training by phone, then it also develops your international scope of where you can market yourself.

Aled: Of course. Very, very interesting. Well Cinnie we’re going to find out a bit more about how your process works in the master class, but before we do that I just want to say a huge thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It’s been really insightful and thank you.

Cinnie: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you. It was lovely.

Aled: Okay. All the best, Cinnie. Thank you.

About the mediator

Cinnie Noble Profile Pic

Cinnie Noble is a lawyer, Certified Mediator and Coach based in Toronto, Ontario. Cinnie has worked in the field of ADR as a mediator for over 20 years and in 1999, she identified what she experienced as a need for one on one process to help people strengthen their skills and abilities to more effectively engage in conflict. Through considerable research, Cinnie went on to develop a unique specialty in the ADR and coaching fields. Conflict ma... View Mediator