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.