We can’t change others. But we there’s a peaceful, reliable way to leave the hostility treadmill, influence others, and quickly find common ground. This powerful method is called “The Three A’s” or AAA-ENDS.
Astonishingly, it works even when you are the only one following it.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” -Mahatma Gandhi
When you feel tension in a conversation, either in you or in them, that’s your signal! Calm both hearts and find common ground using AAA-ENDS:
AAA-ENDS is like two rooms (Accept, Align Heart/Mind) leading into a “Room of Opportunity” (Ask) with a safety net (ENDS) just in case.
These rooms are connected via two doors. BOTH doors need to be open at the same time, or you can’t enter or stay in the Room of Opportunity. Re-open any closed doors and the discussion once again becomes pleasant. Use the ENDS safety net only when doors slam shut and won’t easily re-open.
Each room requires you to:
People do things for good reasons. —Kevin Crenshaw
Seek first to understand. —Stephen R. Covey
You now ACCEPT their reasons without judgment, whether or not you agree. The first door is now open.
YOUR heart is now at peace and not at war.
“But what if I can’t believe that they had a good reason?” Sometimes, we just can’t bring ourselves to even consider the possibility that they had good reasons. We feel justified, they really hurt us! We don’t want to let go of that anger. Examine that carefully. Who is preventing Mutual Respect in the organization in that case? Being willing to give the benefit of the doubt is so crucial to Universal Safety that unless we learn to do it, we can’t remain part of an empowering organization, because our interactions destroy Universal Safety.
Remember, “good reasons” doesn’t mean you like or agree with or find their reason acceptable or effective or even moral. It only means that we can understand why they, from their perspective, given their past experiences in life, might see that as a good reason.
And maybe this will help: even when they do NOT Have a good reason, saying and assuming that they do gives the best results the fastest. When we give respect, we get respect back, through the principle of reciprocity. Be the change you want to receive yourself.
DO NOT ADVANCE UNLESS DOOR NUMBER 1 IS FULLY OPEN,
MEANING YOUR HEART IS NOW MORE AT PEACE
You can’t reach the mind until you calm the heart. —Kevin Crenshaw
Align With Their HEART:
They now feel understood EMOTIONALLY. Some people will understand their own emotions for the first time because you labelled them without judgement. This de-escalates and finishes calming their heart, usually in 90 seconds or less!
Align With Their MIND:
They now feel understood LOGICALLY, which starts to calm their heart.
The second door is now open.
THEIR heart is now at peace and not at war.
When BOTH doors (above) are open, proceed immediately into the room of opportunity.
DO NOT ADVANCE UNLESS DOOR NUMBER 2 IS FULLY OPEN,
MEANING THEIR HEART IS NOW MORE AT PEACE
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. —Helen Keller
This is where you explain your side, WHILE still respecting and aligning with their thoughts and feelings. Keep both doors open at all times! If any door starts to close, immediately open it up again as described above. When they start to understand your side:
You are now choosing a next step to find common ground and a mutually acceptable solution together.
There’s a powerful, Fourth A, and you can use it anytime. After one or more of the Three A’s above:
When we thank someone specifically and sincerely, both parties feel great inside!
“Appreciating” quickly (re)builds your relationship and leaves them wanting to talk more in the future.
Everyone has the right to feel safe. —Kevin Crenshaw
Surprisingly, nuclear options create safety for you. If you quietly remember that you have them as a last resort, you won’t feel trapped. That helps calm your heart so you can help calm their heart and find mutual purpose.
However, like all nuclear options these should always, always be your last resort. Never threaten people with a nuclear option. Otherwise, you will escalate instead of deescalate, and you will be the destroyer of Mutual Respect, Mutual Empathy, and Mutual Purpose!
Try these in order, one at a time, IF they apply. They increase gradually in severity to keep you safe.
90% of the time, an “Empathy Request” is enough to get the conversation back on track. If so, return to the 3 A’s above.
Addressing boss hostility head-on produces the best results long-term, according to this study.
Naming is an escalation that keeps you safe from abuse but will probably escalate and end the conversation. Naming is powerful because it’s a form of containment. There’s a terrifying unseen monster in the sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet, but the fear subsides when a ray gun gives it shape. Shining a bright light on verbal or emotional violence creates safety for you and others because you see it for what it is.
You already named the severe incivility/abuse. Instead of disengaging you may choose to stay present to give them more time to calm down.
Steady escalation means:
They have the “illusion of control” (Christopher Voss, Never Split the Difference) throughout this process. They choose when and how to act—including not acting, in which you will take a final action they know about—but they MUST choose something.
Moving steadily but slowly gives them a chance to think and make sense of the situation. People cannot act until they can make sense of things.
The final step of steady escalation is a permanent action that will prevent all future conflict. Examples include termination, resigning, or taking legal action. But again, they should be seen as your ultimate last resort and never mentioned unless all else fails. Otherwise, you move both hearts towards war instead of peace and safety, and that’s on you.
See this document for a full template to follow for steady escalation in a corporate setting. Simplify those steps in personal settings.
“Conflict is inevitable. Combat is optional.” —Max Lucado
AAA is similar to the three steps of Verbal Aikido, but you can start using it instantly because it’s simple. And when AAA fails, the final (ENDS) steps protect you from the impact of verbal or emotional abuse.
AAA-ENDS works because:
Note: If there is a possibility of physical danger, meet privately in a very public place, or just leave immediately.
AAA-ENDS is only for verbally- and emotionally-charged conversations.
“Who is this guy that I just sat on the phone with for an hour, and who supported me so much I never stopped smiling and WHAT DID YOU DO WITH MY BOSS?!?!? 🙂 🙂 🙂 :)” – Worker/Manager who used the 3 A’s
“This is incredible. I just had a conversation with [worker] that never would have gone this well before. I just need to remember to not jump in and ask for things until I’ve calmed his heart. In the long run, it was faster than the old way because I didn’t need to force him to comply!” – Director
Neverboss: Great Leadership by Letting Go, 2nd Ed. The Rapid Blueprint for Empowering Leadership by Kevin Crenshaw and Laura Shane Crenshaw. Rapid empowerment for entire organizations, and see especially the chapter on Tools of Engagement (verbal empowerment, universal safety, Open Floor Policy).
De-escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less by Douglas Noll. Great resource on verbal de-escalation.
Never Split The Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended On It by Christopher Voss. Brilliant work on tactical empathy.
Talk directly with Kevin Crenshaw, CEO of Neverboss, Empowering Leadership Champion and Instant COO.