The “e” in the R.e.S.T. Method of Conflict Resolution

Establishing an atmosphere of Respect, Safety and Trust is the foundation of the R.e.S.T. Method of Conflict Resolution. The small “e” is an essential part of this method so I like to save it for a separate discussion. The “e” is intentionally not capitalized to provide a mnemonic reminder to downplay the role of what I like to call the “educator”.

Educators come in many forms and I don’t intend this to be a condemnation of educators in any way. Given, we are able to learn from just about anyone if we are open to them. Our closest friend could be considered an educator in that respect. What I want you to get when I use the term “educator” is the picture of a more traditional teacher, instructor or professor– someone standing at the front of a class as an authority on a topic and giving a lecture. Get that picture in your mind.

Now picture a “coach”. The coach is not someone who stands in front of a class delivering a lecture. A coach stands beside you, more like a friend, who is trying to take your style and  redirect the ineffective parts of what you’re doing into something more efficient and useful. A coach is a less formal, tends to wear sweaty gym clothes and uses non-technical language that is easily understood.

Side-by-side, the stereotypical coach and the educator look very different. The educator stereotype is a stern, unwavering, scowling and even punitive presence. On the other hand the coach appears bumbling, slow, shallow and with a silly smile on his face. What we are trying to achieve is a non-threatening, non-invasive, non-authoritative presence that conveys to the conflicting parties the sense that they aren’t in trouble but that they will have to come up with their own solution.

The coach mindset works for a number of reasons. First, your role as mediator is to help find the most effective solution rather than dictate what you think is best. Remember, you are there to collaborate rather than educate. The educator mindset tells the two conflicting parties what the resolution is. The coach mindset lets the parties discover what fits the situation best for them. Sometimes it’s funny what the parties decide upon that will make them both happy.

Two kindergarteners were recently fighting over who will play with a ball first. Neither would let go of the ball. Both had valid reasons for why they should go first. And the funny part is, this conflict would have gone on until recess ended. An educator mindset would solve the problem by deciding on who will go first or they may flip a coin and tell them to take turns after that. The conflict would have stopped and they could have gotten on with their play quickly. The next day, the same conflict would probably pop up again because they weren’t allowed the frustration and discovery process of coming to their own resolution. That’s what I call meatball surgery! Do you know what their resolution was? They went and played tag instead! But the resolution process showed them how to take turns speaking, the other one listening and paraphrasing what was said, and talking about their feelings. The resolution process made them realize that their fight was making the other very upset.

The coach mindset resolves this situation differently. The coach mindset comes in and fosters the discovery process between the two. It takes more time on the “front end” to come to a resolution but that’s only for this one time. The next time the same conflict arises, both of these parties has already established their method for resolving this conflict so the conflict should be short-lived. They know what to do because they invented the solution. And the best part is, the process no longer requires a mediator.

Here are some concepts to remember when applying the coach mindset and downplaying the role of the educator:

  • Collaborate rather than educate (“How can we solve this?”)
  • Help them to discover something about themselves rather than tell them what you think is going on. (“What I’m hearing is this… Is that what you were saying?”)
  • Ask open-ended questions rather than “yes” or “no” questions.
  • Ask how they do something (Columbo* model) rather than suggesting how they did it (Holmes model).
  • Lead with affect (“I feel…”) instead of thought patterns (“I think…”)
  • Don’t say “do it” (set a pattern to belief) rather, say “you can do it” (encourage self-talk to belief) which leads to empowerment.
  • Partially structure your interaction rather than fully prepare a lesson.
  • Help to set up personal experiments rather than give homework.


*Columbo was a doofus detective on TV in the 1970s. His line of questioning seemed to come from left field until the end of the show when he puts its all together for the villain who is always amazed that they were caught by such a bumbler.


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