Cinnie Noble (CN), founder of CINERGY® Coaching, was interviewed by Lauren Atherton (LA), MBBI Writer on October 25th, 2016.
Cinnie is a certified mediator (C.Med) and coach (PCC) who has studied and practiced a range of conflict management services for over 20 years. She has extensive experience as a conflict management practitioner and consultant. A pioneer in the development of the coaching specialty conflict management coaching (also known as conflict coaching), Cinnie created the CINERGY® model in 1999.
LA: How did you become involved in conflict management coaching?
CN: I started my work in ADR as a lawyer and family mediator, and when I studied for my Masters of Law (ADR) I shifted from family to workplace mediation, group facilitation and mediation training. It occurred to me – in that work – that there seemed to be a gap in the ADR field. That is, there was no individualized process for people who prefer to manage their conflicts independently – without a third party. This fact, and that sometimes a party doesn’t show up for a mediation or doesn’t want to participate, led me to do some research about possible processes to address these situations.
I learned about the field of professional coaching at that time, and discovered there was not a specific conflict management coaching model being conducted by professional coaches. This resulted in further research in which I went on to develop a one-on-one process for people who wish to or end up managing their interpersonal disputes independently.
It is through the development of my conflict management coaching model that I also expanded my mediation practice to include more extensive pre-mediation work than I had previously done. This is for the purpose of preparing parties to more confidently and effectively participate in the process. This often has to do with fears many have about delivering tough messages, hearing challenging reactions and responding appropriately. I also do post-mediation coaching for people who find they are not resilient and able to move on after the process is over – even if matters are resolved.
LA: How would you describe conflict management coaching to someone who has never heard of it?
CN: My definition is that conflict management coaching is a structured process that helps people, on a one-on-one basis, to strengthen their skills, knowledge and competencies, to more effectively engage in and manage interpersonal conflict. It is a voluntary, confidential process that focuses on each individual’s conflict management goals.
My model is a 7-stage process which, among other things, helps people to gain increased awareness of what’s going on for them and also consider where the other person is coming from – before considering their options and action steps.
LA: What moment of your career as a mediator has been the most meaningful?
CN: When I had the opportunity to design a mediation workshop and conduct the training in Jamaica, where I also helped design a court-connected mediation programme, were definitely highlights. Similarly, work I did in Trinidad on their family mediation programme was very meaningful.
I would say, though, what’s really compelling for me in my career is being able to provide a bundle of services to my clients – as a mediator, coach, facilitator, etc. – all geared to making the conflict experience a better one. It’s not only providing the appropriate service or combination of them. It is also about passing on what I’ve learned—in terms of training and designing mediation and conflict management coaching programmes specific to cultures and organisations. Being able to offer a range of services reflects how much our field has grown and I find that, in and of itself, very meaningful.
LA: What moment of your career as a coach has been the most meaningful?
CN: Definitely when I created the CINERGY® model. It was learning how to take conflict management, coaching and neuroscience principles and integrate them into an effective framework which can help people on a one-on-one basis. It’s been hugely rewarding seeing people work on what they want to achieve, accomplish it and move on. Since coaching can be provided before a conflict arises, too, making it a proactive process, I really like that. An example is coaching someone before a performance review or some other challenging conversation. The results of coaching are generally effective in helping people find their way through the conflict and gain increased conflict intelligence. As a coach, I find this is all very meaningful.
Another meaningful time I will mention, was a lengthy contract I had with the Transportation Security Administration, a division of Homeland Security, after 9/11. I was hired to design a conflict management coaching programme in which hundreds of airport screeners were trained in a peer coaching initiative. These folks gained great skills and it changed the lives of a lot of people. We saw some huge successes. For example, when we did some measurements and asked the participants a number of things, including what they’d have done if they hadn’t gone to coaching, some said they’d have left the organization. This sort of outcome meant the program not only saved the organization financially, it also resulted in many staff becoming better at managing conflict in general.
LA: What have you done with MBBI since becoming a member?
CN: I joined MBBI in 2010 and fairly early on I was on a panel at an organizational meeting – talking about coaching. I also donated proceeds from my CINERGY™ Conflict Management Coaching book for the first two years after it was published (2011). More recently I have been talking to MBBI on how conflict management coaching may be integrated into MBBI work which is really exciting!
LA: That sounds fantastic. What has MBBI done for you since you have been involved?
CN: I don’t think it’s really about what MBBI has done for me. It’s more about what the organization is doing for people in other parts of the world. It’s so great!! MBBI is an innovative organization with fantastic senior and not-as-senior people in the field who are giving back in their own generous ways. I’ve found that MBBI’s openness to develop more ways to help more people worldwide is just incredible. MBBI is an extremely important addition to the ADR field, making it possible for devoted practitioners to spread learning and build partnerships across the world and that’s incredible!
In Canada, Alicia Kuin is gathering together a growing number of people to discuss topics pertinent to Canada and otherwise. This has broadened my knowledge, too, and I’m grateful to meet others from our community with like-minded interests.
I’m honored to be part of it all.
LA: What makes a good mediator/coach?
CN: Being non-judgemental and listening! We often talk about the importance of listening more than the actual act of listening! Also, I’d add, in my view, a good mediator or coach is a self-reflective practitioner – aware of ourselves, our abilities and our limitations (and doing something about those). Being kind and understanding that people in conflict are in pain and acknowledging that the client (or parties) and every situation is unique and needs our undivided attention are very important, too. Clients really privilege us by trusting that we will help them through a difficult time in their lives, and I think that is necessary to keep in mind.
LA: Is there a big difference between how you approach different organizations and cultures?
CN: Not really. I mean, it’s about engaging the people from the communities and cultures and organization to learn what works best for them. I have mostly learned to listen here again and not make assumptions! This means, among other things, not imposing what I know about techniques onto all situations for which they may not be culturally relevant or otherwise appropriate. It takes being curious and open to learning about what informs people’s lives and what they need to make conflict processes their own and viable for their communities.
LA: Have you had a difficult mediation/coaching experience that you overcame? If so, how?
CN: I find that some of the hardest mediations and coaching sessions are when people resist the process. That is, they make it clear in their own ways that they don’t want to be there or even be in a position where they are in conflict and need (or are sent for) help. I find to overcome this means remaining non-judgmental and discovering whatever compels their negative reactions to the process and possibly, me too.
I have come to see – what I didn’t always appreciate – that resistance provides an opportunity to better understand the reluctant party’s real needs, hopes, expectations, etc. that are masked with raw emotions directed to other things. I realize, too, how important it is to not be insulted if I become the scapegoat of their upset and anger. Just staying patient and humble and letting people know I’m hearing them is the best way I have found to get past these dynamics and move on.
LA: What approaches are most effective for mediation and coaching?
CN: I think it’s important to be really flexible – do whatever works best with the parties’ input and accordingly, co-creating the process! That is, it’s about not taking one approach as if it’s the only or the best. Rather, it’s about looking at what is best for the client or clients in their particular situation with their participation in deciding.