Ever have a conflict with someone and not know where to begin with addressing the situation? No one likes confrontation, but when it is necessary, there are a few basic tools out there that can make all the difference between a successful outcome and a frustrating one.
One model of effective communication that I like is what’s known as A-E-I-O-U (Wisinski, 1993). This model works with any level of conflict within the organization: employee-to-boss, peer-to-peer or boss-to-employee. Here’s how it works:
A – Acknowledge: (Positive intention) Assume the other person means well. Identify his/her positive intention and state it to the other person. Announce this as you begin facilitating the problem-solving.
E – Express: (What I see) Affirm the positive intention you’ve identified and express your own specific concern. “I feel/think”… If you’re mediating, invite each disputant to take a few minutes to clarify their specific worries and problems.
I – Identify: (I propose) Clearly define your objectives and recommendations. What’s the outcome each party wants to achieve? Non-defensively propose the changes you would like to see occur. Saying, “I would like,” as opposed to, “I want,” will avoid inciting a defensive reaction. Here’s where compromise may occur naturally.
O – Outcome: (Outline the benefits of the outcome) What’s in it for them if they agree to accommodate? People respond much more positively when they can buy into the reason for changing their actions or behavior. What are the features or advantages? Don’t forget one of the most powerful motivators is simply recognition: “Thanks, I appreciate your flexibility with this issue.” “I owe you one.”- goes a long way toward harmony.
U – Understanding: (Ask for feedback on what has been proposed) Get agreement on a specific action step – or develop alternatives. Asking, “Could we agree to try this for a while and see if it works out for both of us?” gives the other person the option to accept your proposal. Clarify as needed.
Here is a sample dialogue to see how this plays out:
A cknowledge – “I know that you work hard to make this department run smoothly and efficiently, and that you like to know what is happening at all times.”
E xpress – “While, I, too, want to work in an efficient environment, I feel hampered by having to report to you on everything I do.”
I dentify – “I propose giving you a full report of my work at a specific time, once a week, rather than at various times during each day.”
O utcome – “I anticipate that the weekly reports I give you will be more clear and concise if I prepare them, your time will be saved, and I will feel more trusted and valued as an employee.”
U nderstanding – “I understand that we’ve agreed to try this plan for a month to see how it goes and then review it to see if it meets both our needs.”
I find that using this method to prepare constructive statements ahead of time is advantageous. Remember, when dealing with conflict, always separate the person from the problem in your own mind.
Try to keep a calm attitude and create an environment conducive to resolution. Clarify misunderstandings using active listening skills: What I hear you saying is… Am I correct in thinking that your biggest concern is… This will help the conflicting employees understand one another’s goals and intentions. There are other communication models, but the A-E-I-O-U model distinguishes itself by its key approach, a concept known as positive intentionality. Positive intentionality means that you must assume that the other person means well and is not trying to cause a conflict. Without this assumption, communication can easily deteriorate into defensiveness. With positive intentionality, you attempt to identify a positive reason for the other person’s action.