How Coaching can contribute significantly to Mediation by Jeremy Ridge

1. Understanding more about how Coaching can add value

Coaching has such a focus on the individual that it is seldom, yet, explicitly seen as something that aims at mediation. However, when the right conditions are created, such as building high levels of trust, then it can move on to wider uses, such as mediation.

Mediation is about,

  • Being in the middle between separate positions, and

  • Being able to do something to build connections that may not have been there previously.

The greater depth of understanding coaching can establish with individuals can then be used to enable better understanding of how to connect positions between different individuals.

Mediation can cover a very wide range of circumstances. However, there are a number of established ways where I find in practice that coaching is often involved in work with people in organisations, that can then lead on to important mediation.

I think it is important to continue to grow the way that effective coaching can contribute to people in ways that can be wider than through just a separate set of meetings with just one individual[1] .

2. How using coaching as an important part of effective mediation is a natural development in my practice

I have found that researching and developing my own Coaching Practice has driven understanding of how coaching can deliver more broadly, and across different contexts. And a good example of this is its potential for delivering what can be very powerful mediation.

The understanding, and trust, that a coaching approach can achieve often leads to the coach being able to contribute significantly to enabling individuals to come closer together.

Intervening in the form of mediation, however, can bring important challenges – for example, in the way personal – and confidential - information arising from the coaching approach, may need to be initiated between the people involved.

Even though there are other terms that can seem to mean the same thing: diplomacy facilitation, negotiation, being an honest broker, and even Organisation Development.  It is the particular power of coaching at its best that makes a particular difference, and adds the real momentum to effective mediation.

However it is not immediately obvious that these two terms are always well linked, so this is a chance to consider how these links work, in practice, and how they may be more clearly linked.

What I share below is how I’ve perceived coaching moves from focussing on an individual all the way through to applying a coaching approach/style across an organisation in the context of mediation.

2.1. Starting from a Coaching focus on the one individual

The simple, or more currently normal, approach to a coaching contract is where an organisation nominates individuals for coaching as a quite detached and separate exercise.

  • The Coach never meets anyone actually in the organisation apart from the coachee.

  • The immediate Boss, and even someone from HR, as stakeholders in that individual’s role may be involved directly with the Coach and contribute to the agenda for the coaching.

Immediately, coaches will want to ensure that conditions of confidentiality are also clearly set up for the work with the individual concerned.

Likewise, it is important that the individual concerned takes primary responsibility to progress any wider agenda than for a Coach to be involved.

However, it is increasingly the pattern where these other stakeholders can also want to have some involvement in the process,

  • either with having their own Coaching activities, or

  • even just some informal involvement about how it is going.

Obviously, any involvement needs to be similarly carefully contracted (See Ian Flanders blog).

This also then starts the opportunity for encouraging where there may better functioning between the parties concerned.

It may be directly part of the agenda even.

This starts to open the potential for ensuring relevant information is clarified and shared between parties. The Coach can play an important part in this, either indirectly, or directly as mediation.

2.2. Coaching based Mediation during a 360 intervention

Another well used method of practice is to use a ‘360’ project.

In broad terms, this is an exercise in gaining feedback from a wide range of the stakeholders to a person’s role. This includes people who report in to the person concerned, not just who they report to, and all other colleagues they may need to work with in a less direct reporting relationship.

There are many methods by which the data of 360 feedback is produced.

There are quantitative – psychometric - models that ask for feedback in terms of an established underlying model for the behaviours and role capabilities typically involved for executives. This can open up the agenda into some previously less articulated areas important to any role. For example,

  • A simple quantitative approach is a classic case where the data can just be presented, and left with some general principles of interpretation, or where a more coaching based mediation approach adds much more value.

There is also a more qualitative approach – where stakeholders are interviewed in relation to their observations. These comments are often more closely related to real circumstances; but they also come in the language, and meanings of the provider, and may be more difficult to understand.

  • It involves getting to know the separate parties involved, so as to be able to translate some of the meaning for the other party, which may also lead to a need to have more extensive dialogue between the parties involved – clarifying expectations, separate from the feedback for example.

I find it is important to include the qualitative option as this frees up the expression of important data. But this also requires important work in translating and clarifying what the comments may refer to in the way it is fed back. This then starts the more direct process of mediation.

2.3. Group/Peer/Team Coaching

This context is often the most direct opportunity for mediation.

Teamwork can be intensive. And unravelling the events, making some form of mediation intervention on the basis of the understanding gained from the separate Coaching dialogues, can also be a challenge in the seconds available.

A good quote about team coaching is reported as

            * “this can be like working with eight coaching relationships at once” [2].

The coach may well be in the same room, at the same time, with the other eight people, and it has become clear that something has happened that has raised an ‘opportunity’ for two (or more) of those involved to have a conversation around how some events during the team activity have happened.

This is where a coaching based approach can be brought to bear – using the intimate understanding of where the parties involved are coming from (which is often not easily apparent) in order to close the gap that may exist, and enable a constructive understanding between those involved.

This becomes a real challenge for the way contracting has to be achieved, and maintained.

  • The challenge for the coach in this situation must also avoid breaking any expectation of confidentiality previously established with either party.

  • Others will be also watching closely, with regard to their own personal and confidential dialogues with you as the coach, as well.

  • This is where the coaching skills are really tested!

Many coaches understandably prefer to remain in a one to one context – only having this intimacy/coaching with one member of the team … and even make sure they only meet the team member ‘outside’ of any normal organisational events.

However, I meet increasing numbers of other people in the coaching field who inevitably find they are successfully extending coaching this way.

2.4. Other more Structured forms of Learning / Training style interventions

Quite typically, opportunities here may result from initiatives which are not directly labelled either coaching or mediation. For example, being asked to operate broad leadership development programmes for sets of people from across the organisation.

Other forms of programmes can be also useful, such as principles of effective teamwork; or using frameworks around individual differences from Psychology (other psychometrics.) This is often an excellent basis for introducing a great deal of insight into simple gaps that can exist in enabling connection between people (mediation).

It may introduce the theory, along with practical exercises, but then also extend to becoming a more workshop style part of the programme involving groups of people around conversation around real, not just training examples and issues.

This workshop, as a more open approach, may also directly involve leadership in the organisation that involves the formal leadership, and/or other levels of it elsewhere in the organisation. The opportunities for mediation become much more evident when present in conversations between different people in the organisation.

2.5. Longer term, more varied and Organisation wide Coaching style interventions

I have found in practice that a programme that may start from small beginnings can also lead to much wider scale activities that involve a wide range of different forms of assistance.

For example, a more structured programme, on principles of teamwork, or leadership, naturally moves to invitations to helping on the practical follow up with individuals on the application of the theory.

It is increasingly normal that attention to the individual, rather than the presentation of the theory, by itself, is a part of such programmes. And this is a natural foundation for a coaching approach that can lead on to working on the activities between individuals in various parts of the organisation, i.e. mediation.

This can also be a form of work that is not just one off, but more a continuing relationship with the organisation over a number of years. Once the important conditions of trust have been established, an organisation can be very keen to retain the contribution over time.

3. The safest platform for how coaching can contribute to Mediation – Knowledge about the study of individual differences

Mediation between people working together takes place quite naturally and spontaneously in many cases in organisations – where considerable skill is used by many without them ever considering the skills involved as something special. It is often done in a passing moment of conversation, rather than as a formal process.

I have also found in practice that opportunities for mediation are often more informally contracted than formally. As a natural extension, mediation grows out of creating the foundations of what is involved in coaching.

  • Mediation only becomes relevant when there is a level of trust established.

  • Mediation is a very private matter between those involved.

  • Mediation is normally highly informal.

  • Mediation is opportunistic rather than planned.

  • Mediation is often difficult to clearly evidence what is involved as outputs – except to those directly involved.

Trust (see recent post) requires a particular and demanding set of conditions to be in place. It can be difficult to establish; but also the easiest thing to lose.

However there is the opportunity to establish a degree of tolerance – especially where it is not necessary critical, and people appreciate the difficulties involved.

Overall, I find the safest platform is through a focus on individual differences

There are a range of methods available to enable people to identify patterns in their behaviour. And likewise, there are many frameworks that enable people to consider they may need to appreciate the – invisible strengths, and styles, of others i.e. people ‘not like them’ whom they just don’t understand (See who provides a good basic perspective on this field).

As with all these models it is important to not impose the framework, but rather to enable people to use them as a means of establishing the framework their experience can form for them. For example:

  • An extreme extrovert may have difficulty with an extreme introvert. There are patterns of behaviour that either may prefer that don’t easily connect. Translating these technical ideas into practical terms for those involved is a basic principle for how mediation can be applied.

4. Looking at Mediation Practice as it is reported currently

Mediation is still more often presented as a process most closely used with a need that is a negative crisis, a dispute, and not an opportunity. Something like a lot of the methods of attention to a person are aligned still with a problem. And coaching’s struggle to avoid being seen as a remedial treatment only.

Hence, my definition of mediation is more akin to how the word itself originates from the idea of – middle from late Latin mediatus - placed in the middle,

"Intervene in (a dispute) to bring about an agreement" [5]

Where the current leading edges of thinking about mediation in practice

Mediation, as with coaching, is:

  • Becoming established as a quite distinct and separate activity by itself.

  • More often approached primarily as a form of remedial intervention, where there is a crisis because of a breakdown in understanding between parties, and there is potentially important risks and negative consequences involved.

Some useful perspective on current mediation practice is provided by looking at the current positions of various mediation Practice communities.

4.1. The Professional Mediators' Association (PMA)

The PMA describes themselves as the fastest growing mediation and ADR (alternative dispute resolution) association in the world based in the UK.  

(Material in this section is quoted from )

Their approach is strongly based on the importance of understanding the important technical issue that may be involved in any context. This is equally important in Coaching, as well, of course, but often gets less emphasis in current teachings on coaching.

  • The typical mediation has no formal compulsory elements, although some elements usually occur:

  • establishment of ground rules framing the boundaries of mediation

  • parties detail their stories

  • identification of issues

  • clarify and detail respective interests and objectives

  • search for objective criteria

  • identify options

  • discuss and analyze solutions

  • adjust and refine proposed solutions

  • record agreement in writing

Individual mediators vary these steps to match specific circumstances, given that the law does not ordinarily govern mediators' methods.

Practice is further defined as about a number of key elements:

  1. INFORMED CHOICE All members of the PMA shall conduct mediation based on the principle of party self-determination and informed choice.

  2. IMPARTIALITY All members of the PMA shall demonstrate impartiality… with no personal stake in the outcome.

  3. CONFIDENTIALITY All members of the PMA shall discuss confidentiality … before confidential information is provided by anyone.

  4. QUALITY ASSURANCE All members of the PMA shall conduct mediation … in a manner that promotes diligence, timeliness, safety, presence of the appropriate participants, party participation, procedural fairness, and mutual respect among all participants.

  5. ADVERTISING … members shall not make promises or guarantees of specific results.

4.2. The American Institute of Mediation

In the USA, a more ambitious account is attempted about what Mediation involves – especially at the level of interaction with the individuals concerned.

 (Material quoted from )

This appears to see understanding of the individuals/parties involved at a deeper level to be more important.

  • Show up and are present: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually

  • Listen empathetically to what lies hidden beneath words

  • Tell the truth without blaming or judgment

  • Are open-minded, open-hearted, and unattached to outcomes

  • Search for positive, practical, satisfying outcomes

  • Act collaboratively in relationships

  • Display unconditional authenticity, integrity, and respect

  • Draw on our deepest intuition

  • Are on both parties’ sides at the same time

  • Encourage diverse, honest, heartfelt communications

  • Always act in accordance with our core values and principles

  • Are ready for anything at every moment

  • Seek completion and closure

  • Are able to let go, yet abandon no one

The American Institute of Mediation also gives indications of further next steps needed, which again emphasises the importance of building their coaching approach. For example, responses mediators in recent training events have given about what they wished they had been taught:

  • Ways of using “brief therapy” and similar psychologically based techniques in mediation

  • Detailed techniques for responding uniquely to each negative emotion; i.e., fear, anger, shame, jealousy, pain and grief

  • Coaching skills for working with individual parties in caucus

  • Methods for increasing emotional intelligence

  • Ways of discovering what people think or want subconsciously, and of bringing them into conscious awareness

  • Facilitation and public dialogue skills for working with groups

  • Consulting skills for working with organizations on systems design

  • Better ways of analyzing the narrative structure of conflict stories and a list of techniques for transforming them

  • Better techniques for option generating and “expanding the pie”

  • Learning when to take risks and mediate “dangerously”

  • Ways of becoming more aware of and responding to the “energies” and “vibrations” of conflict

  • How to develop, calibrate and fine-tune intuition, wisdom, and insight

  • Techniques for surfacing, clarifying, and encouraging people to act based on shared values

  • Ways of gaining permission to work with people on a spiritual or heartfelt level

  • Methods for opening heart-to-heart conversations

  • Knowing how to strike the right balance between head and heart

4.3. Mediation also seems to be growing out of Practice – as in Coaching

The material from these two examples of growing communities of Practice in Mediation is important. Mediation is growing from a need that can be met from learning through carefully developed experience, rather than a grand theory based on academic research.

The emphasis on knowledge about the context is important, as well as the understanding of the people involved. And there remain similar patterns in the way Coaching is still developing.

5. Conclusions and further development

a)  It has been useful as an exercise to research the connections between Coaching and Mediation.

There are important parallels about the way that Coaching can be more explicitly a key part of mediation. And it is also important to appreciate the wider scope for how a coaching approach can be used.

b) There seems to be scope for making stronger connections between the two fields, of coaching and mediation, although there is little evidence of this being reported at present.

c) The use of Coaching in the context of organisations, where people are naturally keen to work together more effectively is an important opportunity where this connection could be better considered

d) Other practitioners in Coaching have also often told me of their work in a manner that is also consistent with extending Coaching further. It would be good to encourage more reporting of similar experience and practice.

e) Both Coaching, as well as Mediation have further progress to make. It could be possibly valuable to see how one might further stimulate development in the other, and vice versa.

For example, Mediation requires a high standard of relationship behaviour for it to work. Use in Mediation could be an important standard for Coaching to set, as a standard practice, to ensure that Coaching was operating at its best.

Question: Do you find, in practice, you become involved in what might be called mediation?









[1] Freeing up our use of coaching! … contrasting the simple model of coaching with a more ‘open’ model for coaching