A middle-aged employee worrying about international conflicts

The Role of Coaches in Supporting Coachees During Times Of International Conflict

November 10, 2023

Posted by BOLDLY

During international conflict, our minds go to those individuals who are directly impacted. Their worlds and welfare are of acute importance. However, even individuals who are not personally within the warzone face unprecedented challenges that can profoundly impact their personal and professional development. This includes individuals with cultural or religious ties, family and friends who are close to active conflict, and humanitarians who have a vested interest in universal peace and who may experience extreme distress and helplessness. As the world around them shifts, adults of all backgrounds may find themselves grappling with complex emotions, evolving perspectives, and a heightened need for adaptability, resulting in not only angst but also sleeplessness, weight change, body tension, challenges in attention, and loss of interest in joyful activities. In such turbulent times, the role of coaches becomes even more crucial, supporting coachees to process conflict as well as their complex feelings. In such scenarios, coaches and their supervisors in productive supervisor coaching sessions may lean on Kegan’s stages of adult development to understand a coachee's level of processing of a conflict in order to design personalised coaching support for them.  

Coaches have the opportunity to create a safe space for their coachees, to explore how their feelings about conflict of nations are impacting their work, their lives and relationships. These tumultuous times often cause coachees to question ‘what matters most’ to them, and coaching poses a confidential relationship to surface these thoughts and align them to the coachee's purposeful intentions to act in alignment with their values. 

Understanding Kegan's Stages of Adult Development:

When an individual is immediately impacted by conflict and trauma, their level of adult development, according to Kegan's model, can influence how they perceive, cope with, and respond to the challenges they face. Kegan's theory outlines five stages of adult development, each representing a shift in an individual's way of understanding and interacting with the world. The first two stages are The Impulsive Mind (Stage 1) and The Imperial Mind (Stage 2), which are often associated with late childhood and adolescence. The later three stages of Kegan’s are most relevant to this discussion around the processing of international conflict:

  • The Socialised Mind (Stage 3): At this stage, individuals rely on external authority and societal norms to shape their identity and guide their behaviour. Conformity and adherence to rules are prominent features of the socialised mind. These individuals often seek guidance from external sources, such as government, institutions, or traditional values, to form their moral framework. Their sense of morality is closely tied to conformity and adherence to the established rules and norms of the society they belong to. In the context of war, someone in the Socialised Mind stage may view military actions sanctioned by their government as inherently right, considering it their duty to support and defend the country's interests. They might be less inclined to question the morality of these actions independently and may find comfort in the collective beliefs of their community.
A Female coach helping a male coachee with feelings of uncertainty
  • The Self-Authoring Mind (Stage 4): Individuals at this stage begin to develop a sense of self separate from external expectations. They can define their own values, beliefs, and principles, taking more responsibility for their choices and actions. In the context of war, someone in the Self-Authoring Mind stage may critically evaluate the reasons for conflict, the ethical implications of military actions, and the impact on individuals and communities. They are less likely to unquestioningly accept societal norms and external authority, instead considering their own moral compass in forming opinions about the war. Individuals in this stage may engage in thoughtful reflection, seeking to align their beliefs with personal principles rather than adhering strictly to external expectations. Their views on "right and wrong" in war could be influenced by factors such as justice, human rights, and ethical considerations, demonstrating a more individualised and internally driven moral perspective.
  • The Self-Transforming Mind (Stage 5): In this stage, individuals demonstrate an ability to hold multiple perspectives and navigate complexity. They can tolerate ambiguity, appreciate diverse viewpoints, and are open to continuous learning and personal growth. Individuals in the Self-Transforming Mind stage (Stage 5) of Kegan's model approach their views on "right and wrong" in the context of war with a high degree of complexity and nuance. At this stage, individuals can hold multiple perspectives simultaneously and are open to continuous learning and personal growth. In the context of war, someone in the Self-Transforming Mind stage may consider a broad range of factors, including historical, cultural, political, and ethical dimensions. They are likely to appreciate the complexity of international relations, the diversity of perspectives, and the interconnectedness of global issues. Their views on "right and wrong" in war may be characterised by a deep understanding of the systemic and contextual factors at play. They might prioritise diplomatic solutions, conflict resolution, and considerations for the well-being of all involved parties. Individuals in this stage are less inclined to see issues in black and white, instead embracing the shades of grey that come with the intricate nature of war and its consequences. Their moral compass is highly individualised, yet they recognise and respect the diversity of moral frameworks held by others. This stage reflects a capacity for empathy, a willingness to engage in dialogue, and a commitment to seeking holistic and inclusive solutions to complex issues like war. It's important to note that not everyone progresses through these stages in a linear fashion, and individuals may exhibit characteristics of multiple stages simultaneously. Additionally, the transition between stages is not automatic and may require intentional effort and self-awareness. Trauma and international conflict, particularly for individuals who are directly impacted, will, of course, throw a ‘fair weather’ level of adult development off course.  It should also be said that as coaches, we do not ‘judge’ coachees based on their level of adult development, and indeed, coaches themselves as adults will exist at different levels of development themselves. The ideal scenario will be where coaches with equal and adequate complexity of mind can meet coachees at the same or an earlier stage of adult development, such that they can be of service in the coachees' self-reflection and meaning-making. 
Employee stressing out over news of international conflict

When coaching coachees who are in distress due to concerns about international conflicts and war, coaches can provide additional support and resources to help them navigate these challenging circumstances at all stages of a coachee's adult development. Some of the following approaches may be introduced to coachees experiencing the existential crisis associated with humanitarian tragedies as appropriate to the coachee:

Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques:

● Introduce mindfulness practices and stress reduction techniques to help coachees manage anxiety. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness can provide a sense of calm during challenging times.

Goal Setting and Coping Strategies:

● Collaborate with coachees to establish short-term and long-term goals, focusing on aspects they can control. Develop coping strategies and action plans to navigate the emotional impact of international conflicts.

Support Networks:

● Encourage coachees to lean on their support networks, including friends, family, and colleagues. Building a strong social support system, while also building diversity in the network, can provide emotional reinforcement and continue to nurture broader perspectives during difficult times.

Encourage Self-Care:

● Emphasise the importance of self-care practices, including adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Coachees may underestimate the impact of physical well-being on their ability to cope with stress. This may include social media detox.

A coach's ability to tailor their approach to the coachee's level of adult development enhances the effectiveness of the coaching relationship. It allows for a more customised and resonant conflict coaching experience, fostering personal and professional growth aligned with the coachee's evolving understanding of themselves and the world. For example, coaches may adjust their communication styles based on the coachee's stage, using more direct and clear language for those in the Socialised Mind and engaging in deep, exploratory conversations with those in the Self-Transforming Mind. Coaches may also adjust their level of flexibility during the coaching journey, recognising that individuals may exhibit characteristics of multiple stages simultaneously. This requires a nuanced understanding of the coachee's developmental journey. Coaches may be more attuned to signs of growth and readiness for transitions between stages during times of reflection and trauma to our collective conscience, adjusting their approach as the coachee progresses in their developmental journey.

Coaches play a crucial role in providing holistic support during distressing times, helping coachees build resilience, cope with uncertainty, and navigate their personal and professional lives amidst international conflicts and war. In times of war, the impact of coaches extends far beyond traditional professional development. By guiding individuals through Kegan's stages of adult development, coaches become catalysts for personal growth, resilience, and adaptability. As coachees evolve from the socialised mind to the self-transforming mind, they not only navigate the challenges of war but emerge as empowered individuals capable of shaping their destinies in the face of adversity. Coaches can play their role in fostering peace through active listening, empathy, reflection, and compassion.

In scenarios of trauma, we acknowledge the importance and privilege of the coach to be engaged in these coachee discussions and support coaches to refer their coachees to psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors in their network where needed. In addition, other emergency mental health resources should be part of every coach’s toolkit.

In times of international conflict, the role of a coach becomes increasingly pivotal. Coaches provide a steadying influence, helping coachees to navigate through uncertainty, maintain focus on their goals, and manage the stress that comes with global unrest. By fostering resilience and offering strategies to cope with the challenges of such tumultuous times, coaches ensure that individuals not only survive but continue to thrive and develop.

For those seeking to bolster their resilience or that of their teams during these testing times, BOLDLY's marketplace of experienced coaches is here to support you. Contact us at connect@BOLDLY.app to discover more about our coaches and how we can assist you in remaining steadfast and productive, no matter the global climate.