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Crow Wing Energized: Present-Minded Conflict Coaching

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Upcoming workshop looks at fundamental concepts of conflict coaching. Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service

Working with individuals who are experiencing conflicts can be extremely challenging.

This is particularly the case with individuals who have significant stress and trauma.

Traditionally, when we react to these individuals we often serve to re-traumatize them, leading to an escalation of behaviors. Confronting conflict directly perpetuates the habits which have exacerbated the situation and serves to maintain the pattern of reactionary responses. What is needed is a shift in orientation to the individuals and to our expectations for our behaviors and theirs. By holding people accountable for their behaviors AND restoring relationships, Restorative Justice practices provide a framework for changing this outcome.

Restorative Justice practices are designed to hold the individual accountable for the harm caused and, more importantly, repair the damages done to the other person/people and the relationship(s). Restorative practices require a shift in mindset from that of punishing, blaming and shaming to one of repairing, restoring and reintegrating.

Restorative practices are similar to what many of us have experienced as good parenting behaviors where the goals are not only to hold the child accountable for his/her behavior, but to also restore a positive relationship and to develop skills to prevent the behavior from happening in the future. Further, there is the opportunity through coaching to explore the motivation that underlies the behavior. By helping the individual to gain insight into his/her underlying needs, values and goals, the coach is in a position to assist the person with finding alternative options for obtaining what he/she desires.

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As an example, three young men were involved in an ongoing series of bullying behavior,

which resulted in charges being filed with the police. It was determined that rather than have the young men put into the criminal justice system, an alternative first step would be to involve them in a restorative justice practice that would begin with individual conflict coaching sessions with both the victims and perpetrators, followed by a restorative circle.

In the circle the young men and those harmed shared reasons for their behavior, impact on the victims with the intention of exploring how to repair the harm, restore positive relationships and reintegrate them into the community.

A Restorative Justice framework prepares individuals for Conflict Coaching. Conflict Coaching is different from mediation in that in the former a coach works with the individual to review the conflict, the elements and issues involved and prepares a plan to modify future behaviors. For people with a history of trauma, mediation between conflicted individuals can be very challenging as they may not have sufficient self-regulation strategies to effectively meet with the involved other.

Conflict coaching can help the person develop skills for emotional regulation that may allow them to subsequently engage effectively in mediation. Further, in the Conflict Coaching context there is the opportunity to discuss the conflict in a safe space and to honestly explore the roles of all parties in the conflict.

In a mediation, there is often too much self-protection and posturing to be effective. Alternatively, Conflict Coaching can be used as a stand-alone strategy when mediation is not possible or advised.

Being an effective conflict coach requires one to suspend traditional reactions of blame and shame, and to develop the personal skills to be fully present. In order to be fully and compassionately present to others, we must first become fully present to ourselves. Being present to another person requires that we are in a space that allows us to “hold” the person’s feelings, emotions, values and concerns without ourselves being “triggered.”

Creating a holding environment for others can be a challenge if we have not first done the necessary work to become aware of how we react to stimuli, both external and internal.

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WORKSHOP: Conflict Coaching: The Role of Awareness

Coaching people through conflict vs. confronting can lead to better outcomes. This workshop will introduce the fundamental concepts of conflict coaching and provide opportunities to practice in small groups.

The first half of this upcoming workshop will lay the foundational work for becoming Mindfully Present. We will experientially explore three domains: Body Awareness; Awareness of Feelings and Emotions; and Awareness of Thoughts. As we become more aware of the interactions among these three domains we begin to open up and expand an internal space that allows us to choose how we wish to ACT rather than being held hostage to our REACTions.

The second half of this workshop will provide the foundation for coaching, including working with individuals with histories of challenges and traumas. Conflict coaching is a strategy for assisting individuals to develop positive, restorative responses to conflict.

Drawing on his work with students in St. Cloud schools and at St. Cloud State University, the session leader will share strategies, key conceptual understandings to effectively work with people in conflict. Participants will have the opportunity to practice skills in small groups with real-world scenarios.

Date: Oct. 14.

Time: 10 a.m.-noon.

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Place: Essentia Health – St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Brainerd.

Registration: www.crowwingenergized.org/events

Hoover recently retired after 29 years from St. Cloud State University as an emeritus professor. During his tenure, he served as a professor in the Community Psychology, Counseling and Family Therapy Department. Hoover directed the SCSU Employee Mediation Program and served as interim associate provost for Faculty and Student Affairs, interim dean of the School of Education and interim director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. He teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at SCSU and in the community. He serves on the St. Cloud ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Collaborative and presents often on trauma-informed practices. He has a Wellness Coaching Certificate from the Mayo Clinic and consults with schools and businesses on stress management and life balance.

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