Leading in Conflict

I just returned from the Jim Knight Instructional Coaching Conference at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. I had the opportunity to present and to be a panel member and participant in breakout workshops. One of the session I attended, Coaches and Conflict in Schools, was presented by Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor,at Learningforward.

The workshop description read: Coaches often shy away from conflict for fear that it will negatively affect relationships they so carefully build with their clients. Yet conflict can be constructive and even beneficial for deconstructing assumptions that impede change in practice or feed resistance.

In one activity Joellen had us explore assumptions about conflict adapted from Win-Win, Reagan and Gerstein (1987).

Here are the assumptions and my comments:
#1 All conflict needs are legitimate.

This is a key assumption for a coach to hold in order to build a bridge between the parties in conflict or with someone in conflict with the coach. Only by seeing the issue as real and meaningful to someone can I communicate understanding which is a critical first step to resolution.

#2 Within every individual lies untapped power and capacity.

I have to believe this in order to have a reason to invest in working as a coach. If all students can learn, then so can their teachers. Learn and grow and change…


#3 Process is as important as content.

I might modify this one. Sometimes process may be more important. I have certainly experienced times where discoveries are made while working through conflict that far surpasses the importance of the initial issue of the conflict.


#4 Improving situations is different from solving problems.

Alan McGuiness’s work in the Power of Optimism (earlier blog) states that optimists value partial solutions. That’s critical as one enters a conversation around conflict. Looking for total solutions can often prevent progress as people are unwilling to start without seeing the total resolution. Looking for improvement can help lead to creating a new definition of “the problem”.

#5 Everyone is right from his/her perspective.

This is very similar to #1. Only when I accept that another person has “reasons for” holding a particular view can I respond with understanding. I can’t change another’s point of view. All I can do is provide information or experience. They must decide to change through their own thinking. My acceptance of their perspective can create a climate for thinking.

Performance Learning Systems trains a verbal skill called the supporting statement which is based on this assumption.
This is key for leaders to understand in order to not be frustrated by the continuous emergence of conflict. Our task is to move things forward. Permanent balance is something we probably want to avoid as it is the same as DEAD.

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6 Responses to “ Leading in Conflict ”

  1. m Says:

    I, too, attended the Coaching Conference. I held my hand up when you asked if anyone read your blog. I wanted to comment so you would know I told the truth. Thanks for the recap of Joellen’s session. – Marti

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Thanks for letting me know you read the blog. Great conf

  4. Linda Says:

    Hi Steve,

    This one “hit” me. You know how I tend to avoid conflict at all costs, yet reading through your blog, seeing Joellen’s Power Point and viewing the clip gave me pause for thought. Thanks for continuing to be a great mentor! Linda De

  5. Sue Woodruff... Says:

    Hi Steve: It was great seeing and hearing you at the conference. Love your comments on these assumptions. I enjoyed Joellen’s session, as well. She always gives us something outstanding at this conference. On another note, I tried your backward planning coaching with two teachers today, and it was a wonderfully productive conversation. Thanks again!
    Sue W.

  6. Sue Woodruff... Says:

    Hi Steve,
    It was great seeing and hearing you at the conference. I loved talking about these assumptions in Joellen’s session. She was excellent as well. I learned a lot.

    However, I did want you to know that I used the backwards planning methodology for coaching today, and it yielded an extremely productive conversation. I think it is a wonderful format that focuses on student achievement. It kept our focus on the kids. I also really liked your comments about co-teachers visibly coaching each other and being really explicit about it. The teachers I was working with today have a very difficult group of kids who desperately need to learn how to interact appropriately. They loved the idea of coaching out loud and having kids learn to model how they talk to one another. They designed a plan where they had a social and academic short term goal.

    Thanks again for your great contributions to the field.
    Sue W.

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