Keynote speaker Cinnie Noble will also conduct a conflict management coaching workshop at the CLEBC Dispute Resolution Conference on May 26th. Cinnie will discuss the use of reflective questions as one coaching tool in helping people find their way through conflict. Here's a sample.


Cinnie Noble

The words “woulda coulda shoulda” often seem to be used in the aftermath of being in conflict when we are kicking ourselves for something we said or did or didn’t say or do. The following description provides a pertinent explanation: “For many people, there is a clear distinction between what actually happened and what they wished would have happened in a given situation. Sometimes, people realize a number of options they could have or should have taken instead of the action they actually took. This feeling of regret or second-guessing is summed up in the expression woulda coulda shoulda.”

It is easier in hindsight to consider what may have been a more productive or constructive way to manage a conflict. The time and energy wasted with self-blame replete with woulda coulda shoulda language can be all consuming. Commonly, our recriminations also add to continued tension between the other person and us. Even criticizing ourselves for things we did not say or do when we had the opportunity creates discomfort for those who listen to our plaints.

Why do some of us engage in woulda coulda shoulda recriminations? Previous ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) blog topics suggested a number of reasons such as unresolved issues, lack of reconciliation, and continuing emotional investment in the matter. Low self-esteem and guilt also contribute to this state of reacting. These and other reasons and combinations of them vary from situation to situation and do not exist in all the conflicts in which we participate.

When self-blame prevails though, it is an opportune time for us to assess the wouldas couldas shouldas of the situation - to check out the reality of what we wished we had said or done. This week’s questions aim to help readers conduct such an exercise with yourself.

Considering a conflict situation about which you continue to blame yourself for some aspects, what do you think you “shoulda” said instead or differently from what you did?

What is the action you “coulda” taken?

What information, if you had it, may have helped you with the “woulda” part of the situation?

In what other ways are you blaming yourself about this particular interaction?

What do you think the other person “shoulda” said or done instead or differently?

What is the action you think she or he “coulda” taken instead?

What information may she or he have benefited from that “woulda” changed the course of her or his reaction?

In what ways does the woulda coulda shoulda self-blame keep you engaged in the dispute?

How much do you want to stop blaming yourself on a scale of 1-5, 5 being very much and 1 being not at all?

If you answer less than 5 in the above question, what does self-blame accomplish that you do not want to let go of – at least yet?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

This discussion first appeared on the ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) blog -


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.