The 'Fear Factor' and Conflict

As with the participants who performed stunts on the reality show called “Fear Factor”, many of us are outside of our comfort zones when we are in conflict. Unlike the contestants though when we are in conflict many of us do not experience conflict as sport, and we also lack their apparent boldness. This article expands on the notion of ‘fear factor’ when it comes to engaging in relational conflict and processes designed to facilitate the way through them.

Common Fears

In my conflict management coaching practice, clients often share a range of fears about their experience of conflict, and about participating in an ADR process or managing their situations on their own with coaching. Loss is one of the fears. This may have to do with the fear of losing face, the relationship, control, and what they want as an outcome. Other common fears are of reprisal, and of letting themselves and others down.

It is usual for clients to also fear the possible emotional repercussions. These are often related to previous experiences with conflict, not only what they are feeling about their current situation. That is, some people have histories of being unable to regulate their emotions, or have been continually frustrated with their inability to express themselves when upset. Or, in the past (and possibly in their present situation) they have been overwhelmed by the other person’s reactions to them. Clients in these circumstances may be inclined to shut down, give in, accommodate, and try to avoid conflict altogether.

On the other hand, some people are habitually combative and confrontational. For these clients there may be fears about repeating such reactions in the current situation, and facing negative consequences that have typically followed previous interactions.

Apprehensions of the nature described above - and more - are often combined with self-limiting beliefs about the general ability to engage in conflict effectively. These and a host of contextual factors contribute to the ‘fear factor’ for some of our clients, and as a result their openness and willingness to participate in processes meant to assist them are compromised before they begin.

This article first appeared on - August 2013. Read the full article.


Cinnie NobleCinnie Noble is a lawyer, certified coach, and mediator with a Masters of Law in ADR from Osgoode Hall Law School. She has worked in the conflict management field for over 20 years, and is a pioneer of the process called conflict management coaching, having created the CINERGY® model in 1999. Cinnie coaches and trains this model around the world and also designs organizational conflict management coaching programs. Author of 5 books including Mediation Advocacy: Effective Client Representation in Mediation (1998 co-written with Leslie Dizgun and Paul Emond, Emond Montgomery Publishers) and Family Mediation: A Guide for Lawyers (1999, Carswell); her most recent text is Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model. Cinnie writes a monthly blog entitled Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) which is also the name of her next book. Cinnie is the co-host of the Conflict Management Coaching Community of Practice for the International Coach Federation and chair of the Conflict Coaching Practice area for the Association for Conflict Resolution. In 1991 Cinnie was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for her work in the travel industry on behalf of people with disabilities. She received the Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals in 2002 and 2012 respectively.