After practising primarily as a family law trial lawyer for over twenty years and having recently completed my Masters of Fine Art in Voice Training and Coaching at the Royal Central school of Speech and Drama in the UK, I am now limiting my practice to mediation, parenting coordination, and communication coaching. What a joy it is to be able to “pivot” and refocus my energy in a supportive, rather than adversarial way at this stage of my life and career. 

Coaching Self-Awareness

In family law, we meet our clients when they are in a heightened state of anxiety, fear, or anger. When people are in intensified emotional states, they often lose touch with their bodies and their breath. They are unaware of the level of tension in their body and even more importantly, they will be unaware of their tendency to breathe with short, shallow breaths or actually hold their breath when difficult emotions take hold. Using breath and voice exercises, I coach clients on how to become more physically and emotionally self-aware. I teach them how to breathe through stressful emotions to achieve a more centred and controlled state that can serve them better in mediation, negotiation, or even a court appearance if that should become necessary. Once clients become more reflective and self-aware, they can then begin to consider the feelings and perspective of the other person with whom they are in conflict.  Once they are able to consider another’s point of view, there is the potential for constructive communication, finding common ground and a mutually satisfactory resolution.  

Types of Conflict

Conflict can occur in any situation in which an individual person, or interdependent people, have discordant interests, goals, or feelings. The conflict may be internal or external or a combination of the two.  A person may be internally struggling with their own desires, beliefs, or sense of identity which may cause anxiety, confusion and frustration in their interactions with others. External conflict may occur as a result of one’s antagonism towards a societal structure, such as the confines of a business or employment structure or policy, or because of hostility and resentment in a family relationship. Alternatively, the external conflict may be focused primarily between two people, such as with a business partner or a co-worker, and in the case of family conflict, between two spouses, siblings, or a parent and child. 

Conflict can arise between people when there are different expectations, beliefs or perspectives, or the misunderstanding of another’s expectations, beliefs and perspectives. The external conflict between the individuals is often affected and exacerbated by each individual’s internal conflict. I work with clients to facilitate the management of conflict in a constructive and enlightening way.   Once we have worked with breath, vocal and light physical exercises to release tension and develop physical awareness, I then ask clients to reflect on their own trigger points, their hot points of provocation. We discuss what behaviours of others might threaten their identity, values, or status.  Through role play and discussion clients begin to understand how their own defensiveness may manifest and what their habitual patterns of response to conflict might be.  Once they can analyse their own trigger points, habits, and defenses, they are better able to consider how their behaviour may be contributing to their adversary’s responses. Developing self-awareness and empathy are the first steps to managing conflict constructively.

What is Constructive Conflict Management?

The initial goal in conflict management coaching within a group setting or between two individuals is to introduce the concept of a self-determined, reflective approach to resolving conflict. Rather than avoiding conflict as a negative experience, clients are encouraged to flip the paradigm on its head and view conflict as an opportunity. 

Interpersonal conflict is inevitable. We are all different. We have all grown up and matured having had different experiences and influences which shape our attitudes, our beliefs, our behaviour and our habits. Conflict with others provides an opportunity to learn, grow, and change, if necessary. Conflict provides a chance to better understand ourselves and in turn, empathise with others with whom we live and work with. Conflict can be instructive and constructive!  

The benefits of conflict can provide:

  • exposure to new ideas
  • a discovery and understanding of patterns of behaviour – our own and others 
  • an opportunity to verbalize our own needs – and limits
  • a reminder to listen
  • a forum to practice communication skills 
  • an impetus to learn flexibility
  • a chance to consider new solutions that may not have been apparent before

As lawyers, mediators, arbitrators, parenting coordinators, and family and financial professionals, we are inundated daily with conflict that manifests in a variety of ways in the interactions amongst the players. It is our job to help resolve the conflict. By coaching clients to develop greater self-awareness, we can facilitate a more self-determined approach to conflict rather than enabling imposed solutions.

While one-on-one coaching can be very valuable to an individual who is embroiled in a particular conflict, participation in a group conflict management workshop can often be less personally threatening and more broadly illuminating. The Constructive Conflict Management Workshop, is an introductory, small group experience that is divided into three parts. The first part acquaints participants with the concept of physical and emotional self-awareness using breath, mindfulness and light physical movements.  The second part consists of role play, and the third part is a sharing, discussion, and analysis of personal experience.  

Katharine Rajczak is the facilitator of the workshops at Next Stage Conflict Resolution. In addition to her legal and conflict resolution practice Ms. Rajczak conducts voice workshops and one-on-one training for individuals, lawyers, mediators, actors and other professionals using breath, voice, and mindfulness techniques to create confident presentations and improve personal and professional communications. Further information is available by calling 519-271-9600. 

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