Conflict coaching research often lacks in the amount information about the effectiveness of executive, or one-on-one, coaching theory. Research about coaching techniques that can be applied to two or more people, however, is widespread and many of these approaches can be helpful in solving conflicts. While the practice of the executive approach is common, I assert that by its very nature of not looking at the whole picture, the effectiveness in solving disputes is lacking. Often, conflict coaching is done in large groups, and while that method can make coaching less personable and not all participants feel open and willing to share their situation, the executive method is at the other end of that spectrum and doesn’t address the concerns of everyone who is involved in the conflict. The executive approach allows the coach to be more swayed by the beliefs of an individual, rather than all stakeholders. I will first summarize ground breaking literature on executive coaching before presenting in more detail my own theoretical argument, followed by a conclusion that analyses what other research is needed in this area. By coaching one-on-one, some skills are learned that the client can use to overcome the obstacles they face, but the technique should only be employed when the option to coach all individuals involved in the conflict isn’t available.
In Tricia Jones and Ross Brinkert’s “Conflict Coaching: Conflict Management Strategies and Skills for the Individual,” more executive coaching is needed: “Given the resonance of one-on-one professional coaching and the fact that it is often not feasible to engage two or more parties simultaneously, there is a need to advance this process,” (Jones and Brinkert, 2007). The essay goes on to describe the wide body of conflict communication research and theory, of which there is a blossoming resource from which to draw skills that can be applied to executive conflict coaching.
The coaching theory has developed over the past two decades. Both practitioners and scholars have weighed in on executive coaching, comparing it to a more group conflict coaching method and weighing its benefits and drawbacks. The practice is traditionally described as being focused on professional development at an organizational level. The term “executive coaching” began showing up in the business environment in the late 1980s; however, it wasn’t really a new ground breaking practice, but was a label that was more appealing for the practice of consultation that was offered to senior leaders and managers. A total of 2,000 professional executive coaches were registered in 1996, to 10,000 in 2002 and then 50,000 by 2007, (Jones and Brinkert, 2007).
The essay goes on to show how executive coaching can be applied, whether it is through face-to-face interaction, or by way of written communication or telephone. But the principal is that the basis of the coaching is between only the coach and client. “The definition is also expansive, as it permits different kinds of conflict-related conversations to take place, including but not limited to ways of making sense of conflict, general plans for actively managing conflict, and specific communication behaviors for the client to possibly enact,” (Jones and Brinkert, 2007). The article goes on to say the interpersonal, cultural and organizational factors are central to the conversations that take place while doing executive coaching, but they aren’t included in its definition because they aren’t paramount to the delivery of the executive coaching theory. This means the coaching theory can be applied to a wide range of circumstances. . [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
The focus can be narrow or expansive in its duration and topics. Specific skills can be taught through the technique, while improving job performance, assisting with meeting executive agendas, facilitating organizational change, and for professional development, (Jones and Brinkert, 2007).
In Jones’ second chapter, titled “The Comprehensive Conflict Coaching Model,” she describes a situation where a college dean is unwilling to accept new forms of learning, because he wants to classify his school as being an elite college and he doesn’t believe new forms of communication have any value to the intellectual. During restructuring of the college’s focus, the dean is regularly in conflict with a member of the board. He hires a conflict coach to help manage the situation and to devise a plan that would help come to a resolution. Jones uses this conflict as an example and she presents the executive coaching process through this case study. The article goes on to describe developing a model by which to conduct the execution of the executive coaching, (Jones, 2007). The coach is able to help the dean develop the skills to handle colleagues who he doesn’t agree with.
“In executive coaching, the nature of the coaching model depends on the philosophy of coaching, whether ‘coach-as-expert,’ ‘person-centered,’ or ‘blended,’” (Jones, 2007). So, as the reader can see, executive coaching can be broken down into further categories, according to Jones. The coach-as-expert model functions under the assumption that the coach is like a doctor, and they can diagnose the conflict situation before they instruct about the way in which the disorder can be medicated with certain behaviors. In the person-centered approach, the coach lets the client direct the course of the coaching experience. All the coach does is facilitates an objective reflection on the situation and then offers discussion ideas that help the development of potential ways to deal with the issue. While these methods can be effective, most conflict coaches who employ the executive theory use the blended model, which facilitates the interaction of both the coach and the client as partners with the goal of discovering the desired outcome and the most effective way to accomplish that outcome.
The article goes on to describe the generic executive coaching model, which aims to identify five steps that are common in most coaching models. These include the initial goal setting, contracting, action planning, implementation and evaluation. Another model described by Jones suggests eight steps that should be followed in the coaching process. These steps include encouraging the client to be involved in determining the best behaviors in the client’s role; involving the client in the determination of all the key players in the process for change; collecting feedback; deciding the key behaviors necessary for change; allowing the client to respond to the key players; helping the client develop a plan of action and reviewing what had been learned; determining the best follow-up action steps; and, reviewing the results and starting the process again. While these steps are widely accepted, the degree to which each of the steps is executed varies. The assessment and contracting stages are given much more emphasis on many of the models. [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
Executive coaching also often involves an alliance between the coach and the client. This includes the need to assess the way in which the coach and client are interacting. This is called an “alliance check.” The check allows the client to gain an understanding of why the coaching has been requested, if the client isn’t the one who made the request. This process is a precursor to moving on with the coaching experience. At this point, the client is able to decide whether they want to move on with coaching, or stop the process because they don’t like the coach and would either prefer to see a different coach, or they don’t want to be coached at all. This is called the “likability link,” Jones describes. It is also contingent on whether the client feels the coach has enough knowledge in order to help them.
In Max Visser’s “Relating in Executive Coaching: A Behavioural Systems Approach,” he describes relationships and how they are used in the executive coaching theory. Visser found in his study that a system and behavioural approach can be beneficial when combined into a single approach. The article goes on to say that the way in which executive coaching is characterized is through the behavior, systemic, patterned and communicational approach that it uses.
The recognition of this behavioural approach has led coaches who use the executive model to address the needs of people in a growing number of professions. In fact, as the article states, the growth that is being experienced in the executive coaching model is due to the increasingly competent employees that are given more free-reign to interact with their superiors more openly. This has been the source of some level of conflict, to which the executive conflict coaching model is needed. It is this type of interaction that requires a behavioural approach to delivering the needed solution to these types of conflicts. “With the advent of post-industrial forms of organisation and increasing levels of employee work competence and demands, CEOs and senior managers have become aware of the importance of their ‘people skills’ and networking capabilities to maintain their positions and to prosper in their careers,” (Visser, 2010).
Some outcomes of one-on-one coaching, as explained by the U.S. Geological Survey, include improving the conflict management skills in order to help members of staff handle conflicts. It can also allow people to become familiar with what triggers the urge people to react negatively. People can also learn to find the reasons why the conflict happens and what ways there are to address the conflict. People can also learn how to practice how they will react before they enter a situation that is ripe with conflict. Those who are coached can also have a way in which to know the patters that develop when a conflict is sparking and what they can do to ease the tension. Mediation process training is another benefit from the executive coaching. The method also allows people to handle their feelings that have gone unresolved after a dispute has ended. Leaders are able to learn ways to train their staff to handle potential conflicts. Those who are part of the lower-level employees can learn how to improve their communication with co-workers and supervisors, (Cohen, 2010).
The same government source indicates that a coach is needed when a person isn’t comfortable with the way a group process or mediation is evolving. Also, when an individual feels that they are stuck in the same uncomfortable situation, they could benefit from an executive coach. When an employee wants to improve communication between a colleague or supervisor, they could consider having a life coach. A coach can also be beneficial when a supervisor is looking to improve the way in which they communicate with an employee, (Cohen, 2010).
Now that I have explained some of the research surrounding executive coaching theory, I will explain my theoretical argument in more detail and then provide a critique of that argument. I believe that executive coaching isn’t as productive as coaching all those who are involved in a conflict. If only one person is being coached, the person who is coaching isn’t receiving both sides of the story and there isn’t a way to truly understand the problem. While I believe the method is beneficial as a last resort, all other options should be explored before this method is employed.
Take, for example, a situation between two employees that are having issues with each other’s employment practices. The pair work at a newspaper and the first employee is the publisher, while the second is the editor. At a newspaper, the publisher has title over the editor, though both are in a managerial position. A publisher is mainly focused on making as much money for the newspaper as possible, and the owner usually sets out budget goals for the publisher. The editor, however, is a trained journalist and follows journalism practices as closely as possible, with little to no regard for attracting advertisers to the newspaper. The editor’s primary concern is for acting as the watchdog on society. This is the reason he entered journalism, and he believes that while newspapers are created to earn a profit, they should be primarily concerned with the role they play in society in ensuring that everyone plays by the rules. But the publisher only thinks about the fact that any bad publicity on a potential or current advertiser with the newspaper will compromise the publication’s ability to earn profits.
One day, the editor discovers that a local factory that cans tuna is disposing of mercury-rich water into a nearby stream. An employee of the factory has worked there for several years and he could no longer sleep at night knowing that his employer is polluting the water that flows into his municipality’s aquifer. Several people in the small town have even developed illnesses and have died, likely because of the water that is being spilled into the stream. The factory owner is a major advertiser with the local newspaper, not because it aims to sell tuna to the locals, but because it wants to improve its community relations and perhaps wants to keep shut the mouths of the town’s journalists. Having walked with the employee to the site where the spillage is occurring, the editor sees that the claim is true. . [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
He proceeds to write an article about the travesty and he intends to syndicate it to national publications. However, every day the publication is to be sent to press for printing, the publisher reads the content to ensure his advertisers’ reputations aren’t compromised. When he sees the story, he pulls it from the paper and orders the editor to use another article to fill the space. The editor becomes furious and the pair argues. This continues for days and the publisher worsens the problem by instructing the editor to write positive articles about the companies that advertise with the newspaper. The editor believes this will mislead his readers, and he refuses.
The newspaper publisher then consults a conflict management coach to help with the situation. The publisher explains that he has an editor who won’t follow instructions and who is threatening to run the newspaper into the ground, disobeying every instruction in the process. The publisher isn’t familiar with journalism standards and the coach can only assume that the editor is in the wrong. Under this assumption, the coach instructs the publisher about how to handle the issue and how to get along with the editor. But this coaching is not affective without hearing the editor’s side of the story as well. Because conflict coaching only focuses on one party in the issue, the coach can’t instruct the pair about how a resolution can be made. A good coach will recognize there is likely a larger issue at hand and they will give general information to the publisher about what should be done. The information, however, isn’t always useful because without telling the publisher what they need to do in order to gain the approval of the editor, and for the pair to come to a compromise, no progress will be made.
In a group coaching method, both parties would receive coaching and both would be able to understand the other party’s opinion. With an understanding of the need for the editor to write his story without the newspaper going bankrupt, the pair might learn to get along. In many conflict situations, the main issue is that each party doesn’t understand the views of the other. Conflicts are often heated, and each party isn’t heard by the other. In this case, the editor believes the journalism code is paramount to the operation of a newspaper, but doesn’t understand that the newspaper might not be around if it loses the tuna factory advertiser. Likewise, the publisher has no journalism training and is sales motivated to carry out the budget guidelines delivered to him by the owner.
A coach would be much more capable of providing a solution if each person was given a chance to speak and be understood. A solution in this situation could be that the editor is able to syndicate the article to other newspapers, but the story can’t be printed locally because it would mean the newspaper would lose its largest advertiser and might have to shut down. This solution would satisfy the needs of both parties. Also, if the publisher were made to understand the role of the media in society, they would likely not use the credible nature of articles to sway the clients into advertising. A solution to this could be that the articles that are being requested should be advertorials, rather than articles. An advertorial wouldn’t have the editor’s byline on it and the top of the story would say that it is a paid advertisement, meaning the readers wouldn’t be misled. This is a solution that wouldn’t be discovered with the executive coaching theory.
Let’s take a look at the ideal results of the coaching if the executive theory were put into practice: The executive coach would assess the situation based on the publisher’s interpretation of the facts. This would involve interviewing the client to discover what the conflict is. Next, the coach would ask the client what type of goals they would like to meet. A written coaching plan would then be developed, including action steps, an action plan and milestones. The coach would then implement the plan, measure the results and help the transition develop to the long term.
But would this method really work if the coach wasn’t aware of the other side of the story? During the goal-setting stage, the client would say something along the lines of, “If he writes the stories that he wants, he’ll run the newspaper into the ground. My goal is to get him to listen to me and only write what is good for the newspaper.” Logically, the goal would be to have the editor carry out instruction as told. But this isn’t making any concessions, and the editor would either quit, get fired or the conflict would continue and even escalate. Without knowing both sides of the story, a compromise can’t be made and, in conflicts, more than one party needs to be satisfied in order for the tension to dissipate.
However, there is a situation when the executive coaching theory should be applied as a sole way to coach. Tools could be given to the individual to handle someone who is perceived to be difficult. In the publisher/editor conflict, the publisher might be reacting too strongly to the refusal of his editor to accept not printing the story. If he is coached to listen to the views of his editor and to understand why he is reacting this way, he might begin to see more clearly the reasons why the editor feels the way he does. This understanding might lead the publisher to make a suggestion similar to what would be understood by a conflict coach if both parties were present at a coaching session: he could say that the editor is free to syndicate the column to other media. At the same time, the publisher might understand that instructing his editor to write stories that appear to be articles about advertisers might compromise his journalistic integrity.
It should also be noted that the executive coaching style could, and should, be used in conjunction with methods that involve all who are part of the conflict, if an individual is only able to express themselves clearly when the party to which they take issue isn’t present. Discussing the issue with the individual allows the coach to gain a better understanding of the problem and allow them to come to a solution that satisfies everyone involved. Once the coach has learned the perspective of the individual, each party can come together and the coach can communicate each side of the story and begin to set goals that would meet the desires of each side.
A basic first step in conflict coaching is to have the coach gain an understanding of the conflict at hand. This is only possible through the understanding of the conflict with every party, which can only occur through coaching methods that are more encompassing than the one-on-one system employed by executive coaches. Conflicts, in cases other than a person struggling with oneself, always involve at least two people with more than one point of view. Solving the conflict that arises requires the understanding of all sides in order to satisfy each party enough so that the conflict can be suppressed. In its very process, which includes an assessment and goal setting, executive coaching can only address one side of a conflict, which leaves the other party without resolution and primed to continue the conflict. The only way executive conflict coaching can be successful, is by giving the sole party that is consulted, the tools to live with the behaviors of the other party involved in the conflict. By employing a coaching method that allows for the process of discovery through a maximum stimulus of information from all contributors to the conflict, a resolution can begin taking shape.
When applied to a typical conflict, which involves more than one person, the executive conflict coaching theory is inherently flawed. It lends itself to the coach only satisfying what they believe the clients wants to hear, and that is being told that they are right. After all, unless someone is sponsoring the person being coached, the client is paying for the service, making the coach more inclined to side with the client, rather than telling them that the person with whom they are at heads with is actually correct.
While this short essay provides a general guide as to when the executive coaching method should be employed, there needs to be more concrete information gathered about the practices of executive coaching in its different applications. As Visser says, many of the executive coaching approaches focus on the attitudes, needs and brain activity of the client. To gain an understanding of the relationship of these factors, his article goes on, a thorough understanding of the behaviours needs to be undertaken by the coach employing the executive method. But there is a barrier in executing this psychoanalysis of the client due to a lack of theory and research into the analysis of how relationships are used in executive coaching. “Most students of executive coaching inquire into the ways coaches and executives as individuals perceive and experience the coaching relationship, into what they individually learn, and into the individual qualities of coaches and executives that influence these perceptions and experiences,” (Visser, 2010).
In this essay, I mentioned that executive coaching is useful in two ways: first, in conjunction with group coaching, and, second, when all that is needed is a way in which to deal with someone who is perceived to be difficult. Executive coaching should be tossed out as a best-practice principal and should be only applied when no other conflict coaching option is available.
Cohen, J. (2010). Using Conflict Coaching to Address Conflict. U.S. Geological Survey.
Jones, T. and Brinkert, R. (2007, Dec. 17). Conflict Coaching: Conflict Management Strategies
and Skills for the Individual. Chapter 1. Sagepub.
Jones, T. and Brinkert, R. (2007, Dec. 17). The Comprehensive Conflict Coaching Model. Chapter
Vesser, M. (2012) Relating in Executive Coaching: A Behavioural Systems Approach. Institute of
Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.