Conflict of Interests vs. Synergy of Interests

Several years ago, I was asked by the founder of a medium-sized company to coach one of his senior consultants. At the end of the session, my only recommendation for this consultant was to take her Christmas holidays, take time off, enjoy time with her family and see what unfolded. A few months after, she resigned from her position and found a job elsewhere.

One might think: “Is that what coaching does? Couldn’t you have coached her for her to love her job and become better at it?”

I believe that what is best for each employee is also what is best for the company. That company was not being served by having her as a consultant when deep down, she felt complete with her time there. This company today has had several employees leave in the last two years, and new talents that have joined that are a much better fit for its current stage of growth and the kind of projects it delivers.

As importantly, this senior consultant has found a position that probably suits her aspirations much better.

In the world of coaching, the concept of “Conflict of interests” appears to be a big deal.

In many cases, however, what could appear to be a conflict of interest could actually be a Synergy of interests.

For instance, a coach who is coaching the director of a non-profit, offers to coach an independent fundraiser who works for this non-profit as well. It seems that there could be a conflict of interest: what if a situation opposes the director and the fundraiser, or at least, shows their interests to be going in opposite directions?

Who’s person should the coach’s loyalty go to?

Well first of all, the important thing is for the coach to let each party know about his involvement with the other.

Then, it seems that the coach doesn’t need to take sides. By serving each client, the conflict can solve itself ; or at least, the coach can support each party to show up in the best of their own interests. As long as the coach is not attached to any particular outcome, there is no conflict of interest.

That is good theory, but it does become tricky when the conflict of interest happens at an unconscious level. That is the main risk. One might say that one is not “attached to the outcome”, but still have that feeling, or a tid bit of neediness that demonstrates attachment.

How can you let go of attachments?

  1. Practice self-awareness: Notice your feelings, sensations, emotions and thoughts around this issue.
  2. If you are sensing some disturbance (in feelings, sensations, emotions, thoughts), there is probably attachment
  3. When you notice that attachment, just let it be.
  4. Attachments are here to give us a benefit. A lot of times, they are here to makes us feel safe. Think about what benefit this attachment is offering you.
  5. Think about a plan B: What could you do to offer you an alternative?
  6. Can you find 3 alternatives to offer you that safety/other benefit that this attachment was giving you presently?
  7. What actions can you take to make these happen?
  8. Check-in with your feelings, sensations, emotions and thoughts around your first issue.
  9. If it feels clear, you are good. If not, repeat the process until it is totally cleared up.

Shifting towards synergy of interests:

Coming back to my example of the Director of a Non-Profit and a contracted fundraiser. Let’s imagine that the opposition came from the fact that the Director wanted the fundraiser to work full time for their organization, whereas the fundraiser preferred to work with different clients. The coach’s role can be to help them individually find the synergy of interests. This role looks a little like that of a mediator, except that the coach doesn’t need to facilitate a dialogue directly with the two parties.

In the case mentioned above, the coach might help each party determine what really matters to them and why they want what they want.

For instance, the Director might discover that he wanted the fundraiser full-time in order to have direct access to her by phone when he needs her services. Furthermore, it might be because he has a grant to hire an employee full time, and that would be a great opportunity.

As for the fundraiser, she might want to keep her business going because she is serving multiple clients who’s projects excite her.

In that case, several solutions can be brainstormed:

– the Director could hire her part-time, using the grant so she can keep her business going

– he could also hire her full time if she feels she can handle an extra 1-2 key clients on the side

-he could use his grant to hire somebody for another position, and keep the fundraiser as a contractor


The key point here is to make sure that the solutions answer to the needs of both parties (for the Director: to have someone take care of fundraising, grow the donor care and relationships, to use the grant as it is a great opportunity ; and for the fundraiser: to continue to serve the Non-Profit as well as other clients, to maintain her income, and keep enjoying her work).

That shift from conflict of interests to synergy of interests allows to solve apparent conflicts and create more sustainable relationships and greater value for all stakeholders.

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