Conflict Coaching Cinergy

rock-art-smConflict coach Cinnie Noble is a matchmaker par excellence bringing together some powerful ideas. Her book Conflict Management Coaching is an excellent resource for any conflict coach. In 1999 she created a seven-step conflict coaching model called Cinergy. It brings together three essential pillars; coaching, alternative dispute resolution and neuroscience. Her goal is to help people through their conflicts as well as anticipate and prevent others from emerging. What I particularly like about her approach is the incorporation of neuroscience into conflict coaching. I recall years ago Alexander Christakis and John Warfield developing the Demosphia. The Demosophia was a problem solving room, equipped with all the latest bells and whistles – computers, whiteboards, and projectors. Christakis and Warfield incorporated into their problem solving room insights from a range of disciplines. One of my favorites was the ‘law of requisite parsimony’, which states that “the human brain can only keep track of 7 things, plus or minus 2”. Many problems have more elements than 7 things, plus or minus 2. This complexity makes problem solving too difficult to manage. The Demsophia’s computers, whiteboards and projects all helped manage the large number of items.

Cinnie Noble has wisely left all the technology behind. Instead she builds her model on a newer understanding of neuroscience. Essential to her model are 1) focusing attention, 2) encouraging mindfulness and 3) harnessing creativity. The coach’s task is to orient clients in a positive direction towards success.

Conflict Management Coaching details the Cinergy model, as well as numerous issues with which conflict coaches must deal. The essence of the model comes from its name:

C – Clarify the goal
I – Inquire about the situation
N – Name of elements
E – Explore choices
R – Reconstruct the situation
G – Ground the challenges
Y – Yes, the commitment


Some of the material in the book will look very familiar to conflict coaches, and some may be novel. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in conflict coaching.

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PS1 Morphs into Family Dispute Resolution – 1

Jones family, Pentre Trewyn (1878)In Australia FDR–1 (family dispute resolution for one) has morphed from PS-1 according to John Cleary.  Cleary is a family mediator with over 3000 hours of client mediation from Brisbane.  He’s also a former student of mine, who adapted PS-1 to fit his needs.  Key to effective use of FDR-1 begins with an appropriate triage of the presenting parties. Cleary explains, “…I developed a five choice instrument where I asked clients to tick what they wanted for the session:

  1. I have tried to mediate but without result. Where to now? What else can I do?
  2. I am going to mediate and want to prepare myself to maximise the opportunity
  3. The other parent will not agree to mediate. Where to now? What else can I do?
  4. I have problems and issues with the mediation that I attended.
  5. Something else, not in the list above. “

He had “…expected many clients would tick #4 because the creation of Section 60(I) certificates by the Australian Attorney General’s Department in the Family law Act, 2006, requiring such a certificate to be given before most people could approach the Family Court about parenting matters meant that there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the process.” Number four was rarely selected, instead number one, two and three proved most popular. The most commonly used skills according to Cleary include:

  1. coaching clients to understand how a mediator might view conflict,
  2. how a mediator operates in mediation,
  3. what facilitative mediation depends on from participants,
  4. how basic skills of mediation such as interest based statements and thinking could be applied,
  5. how reframing works,
  6. how future focus unlocks possibilities, and
  7. how the prospect of peace breaking out can be a worthwhile ambition in the face of pain.

In an anonymous case study John illustrates the power of FDR-1.

A grandmother approached and contracted for FDR-1. At first she seemed to be one of many grandparents who thirst to see more of their grandchildren when family relations have become strained through separation or re-location. This grandmother was running the risk of being charged with stalking and trespass as she drove a long distance to the coast ‘just to see her two grandsons in the school playgrounds’. Her son warned her that he would seek to raise a domestic violence order against her if she was seen near the boys’ school again; a sad and not uncommon scenario. Sobbingly she spoke of her wish, rebuffed, to mediate with her son about contact with her grandchildren. In the triage she ticked the boxes indicating ‘Where to from here? The other party cannot/ will not participate in FDR at this time’ and ‘How can I enhance the opportunity to make agreements/ get cooperation from the other?’ We began by tracking the narrative of recent events to locate who should be mediating (or something like it) with whom? I asked her about her grandsons. In this one-to-one private session where confidence was assured and truth telling was agreed, it quickly emerged that the boys didn’t like their grandmother and it was mutual! They threw things at her car when they came out of school and spotted her. She commented that they were both cheeky and unpleasant proto teenagers. I asked her then who was her dilemma with and it emerged that her only son had married a woman, and was still married to the woman, whom she didn’t like and never had. I asked her what kind of meeting she might envisage in the future between her son and his wife, thinking ‘maybe a family conference’? It emerged that she thought dealing with her son and daughter-in-law would be a lost cause. She conceded that her son would always side with his wife against her and that this was not really a surprise because he had always been a disappointment to her and her husband. I asked her about her husband.  In a flood of tears she declared that their relationship had been a hollow shell of pretense for decades, even before her son left home.  This brave client undertook an analysis that asked what the present situation was actually about, who the participants were, what the past history actually was, where the projections led (a referral to counseling in part came out of this) underneath the broadly known and also the more privately known and barely known presenting issues. As we searched together for what was really driving her to mediation, she found the unconscious driver sitting beneath the known facts and the explicit, known drivers:

  1. fear of losing her identity because her family was largely non functioning,
  2. fear of losing her security because divorce or separation from her husband was increasingly on her mind and
  3. fear of losing recognition and a sense of belonging because she was so lonely and was engaged in furious pursuits, even dangerous ones, because she felt engaged and socially included even if it meant joining the pool of ‘wronged grandparents’.

We finished exhausted but relieved after two hours. The client’s candor in the FDR-1 setting established that her conflict was largely intrapersonal and grew out of her increasingly less productive attempts to satisfy deep-rooted human needs. She took away the idea of seeking therapy for herself and was cured of mediating meaninglessly.

Encouragingly, John says he “…found that the most common sentiment … shared in the room was optimism and hope in the prospect of mediation or a similar conflict resolution offering working productively for the client.”

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Treating depression with Virtual Space Station

space station smallDr. James Cartreine, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s NSBRI Neurobehavioral and Psychosocial Factors Team, has been working on a grant to develop a problem solving based treatment for depression and interpersonal conflict aboard the International Space Station.  His work, drawing in part on Problem Solving for One, is discussed at Treating depression with Virtual Space Station.

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Problem Solving for One Update

Here’s a problem solving for one update from Australia.  The below item is excerpted from the Victorian Association for Dispute Resolution (VADR)’s website (


On 20th May, John Cleary, a family dispute resolution practitioner from Relationships Australia Queensland (RAQ) spoke to a fascinated audience about a pilot family coaching project he undertook for RAQ over a three year period. Unless court-ordered (and even then), mediation often, even usually, fails to proceed, usually leaving one party in the situation where they don’t know what to do next. FRDP John Cleary has created an adapted an original and exciting adaptation of Tidwell’s 1992 Problem-Solving for One, the first systematic conflict coaching model to be developed in the world. Although John’s model applies specifically to the family context, the method is flexible and capable of being applied to many areas of ADR such as workplace, education and ombudsman work. Early evaluation indicates high levels of client satisfaction.

John Cleary has been an FDRP and family mediator with Relationships Australia Queensland for 16 years. During his time at RAQ he has trained and accredited many colleagues, acted as the FDR program leader for a few years and now clinically supervises a dozen or more FDRPs in Relationships Australia. He thought about solo client issues for several years before coming up with his own innovative adaptation of Tidwell’s Problem Solving for One.

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