A dour Englishman was seated on a train between two ladies arguing about the window. One claimed that she would die of heatstroke if it stayed closed. The other said she would expire of pneumonia if it was opened. The ladies called the conductor, who didn’t know how to resolve the conflict. Finally, the gentleman spoke up. “First, open the window. That will kill the one. Then close it. That will kill the other. Then we will have peace.”
The above obviously is not a good way to manage conflict.
No one likes conflicts, but when it is needed to confront it, several basic tools are available that can assist in developing a mutually satisfactory outcome.
One model I can recommend is the so-called 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 is how the model 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 as Department Head you must ensure that this department achieves its annual objectives”
E xpress – “While, I, want to contribute and do my utmost to achieve my share of the objectives, I am hampered by the lack of support from you.”
I dentify – “ I propose that we meet every Tuesday at 10:00 AM for 1 hour where you can advise me how to deal with the challenges I am facing”
O utcome – “I am certain that with your support I will be better able to identify what the customers needs and offer the best solution as well as close any sales opportunities, This way I will be able to achieve my sales targets.”
U nderstanding – “I understand that we’ve agreed to try this plan for 2 months to see how it goes and then review it to see if it meets both our needs.”
I’ve observed 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 .
Many executives 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.
(Peter Frans – Principal Consultant)