The Three A’s Method (AAA-ENDS)

Win Hearts, Inspire Minds, Get What You Want
(And Stay Safe Doing It)

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

The AAA-ENDS Steps

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:

  • ACCEPT with an inner smile. (Mutual Respect)
  • ALIGN with their heart and mind. (Mutual Empathy)
  • ASK how to meet both sets of needs. (Mutual Purpose)
  • Only as a last resort, use your ENDS “nuclear options.” (Stay Safe, Final Resolution)

The Details and the Model

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.

3 A's Method Diagram

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:

  • SAY something to get it started, and
  • HEAR something specific that tells you that you are done.

DOOR Number 1: ACCEPT their “reasons why” with an inner smile. (Mutual Respect)

People do things for good reasons. —Kevin Crenshaw
Seek first to understand. —Stephen R. Covey

  • YOU SAY: “I’m sure you have a good reason, help me understand.” Or you can guess at their good reason and tell them. They’ll correct you if you guess wrong.
  • YOU HEAR YOURSELF SAY: “I can understand that.”

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.


DOOR Number 2: ALIGN with their heart and mind heart. (Mutual Empathy)

You can’t reach the mind until you calm the heart. —Kevin Crenshaw

Align With Their HEART:

  • YOU SAY:So you’re feeling (insert their EMOTION here).” Ignore their words and guess if needed.
    • OR (for relationships) VALIDATE their emotion by identifying it and providing a justification for it.
      • “That sounds frustrating! I’d be upset too…”
      • See the book, I Hear You, by Michael Sorensen, for more training on validation.
  • YOU HEAR THEM SAY: “That’s right!” or something similar, like “Yes.” “Sure.” “Yeah.” Or even “Ya think?”

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:

  • YOU SAY:So it feels to you like (insert their THOUGHTS here).”
  • YOU HEAR THEM SAY: “That’s right!” or something similar, like “Yes.” “Uh huh.” “Pretty close.”

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.


ROOM OF OPPORTUNITY: ASK for a mutual solution. (Mutual Purpose)

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 SAY:What would it take to meet BOTH of our interests/needs?” Other variants are “What if…?” and “How could we do both?”
  • YOU HEAR: “OK, let’s try this …” or even “I’ll have to think about that.”

You are now choosing a next step to find common ground and a mutually acceptable solution together.

PS. There’s a Fourth A! APPRECIATE their contribution. (Mutual Bond)

There’s a powerful, Fourth A, and you can use it anytime. After one or more of the Three A’s above:

  • APPRECIATE their willingness or contribution. (Mutual Bond)

When we thank someone specifically and sincerely, both parties feel great inside!

  • YOU SAY:Thank you for explaining your position,” or “Thanks for considering some options,” or even “Thanks for being willing to talk.”
  • YOU HEAR: “You’re welcome” or similar, usually with a smile. 🙂

“Appreciating” quickly (re)builds your relationship and leaves them wanting to talk more in the future.

NUCLEAR OPTIONS: Use ENDS keep things safe as a last resort. (Stay Safe or Final Resolution)

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.


  • YOU SAY:When you ________, I feel ________ because ________.” For example: “When you shout at me, I feel hurt because I like you.”
  • YOU HOPE TO HEAR: Something calmer or conciliatory. “You’re right.” “I’m sorry.” “I didn’t mean to shout.” If you hear progress, immediately leave this step and start opening doors using the Three A’s above.

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.

NUCLEAR OPTION 2: NAME THE ABUSE out loud, clearly, specifically, yet gently.

Addressing boss hostility head-on produces the best results long-term, according to this study.

  • YOU SAY:That is __________, it’s unkind (or uncivil or abusive). Can we talk without that?” For example: “That is labeling and name-calling, it’s unkind. Can we talk without that?”
  • YOU HOPE TO HEAR: Something more civil, even if angry. “Sure.” “OK.” “I guess so.” Or even “what do you mean?” If you hear progress, immediately leave this step and start opening doors using the Three A’s above.

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 SAY:I’ve got to go, let’s pick this up in 20 minutes (tomorrow).
  • DO NOT WAIT TO HEAR ANYTHING: Just leave or hang up. The environment is not currently safe. When you meet again, pretending incivility never happened lets them save face and feel good about the new conversation.

… OR STAND STILL until it stops.

You already named the severe incivility/abuse. Instead of disengaging you may choose to stay present to give them more time to calm down.

    • YOU SAY: Nothing. Silence gives them space and time to calm down. Do not fill the silence and let them off the hook. Give them space to think and compose themselves.
    • YOU HOPE TO HEAR: Something non-abusive, even if still angry, which is likely. If you hear progress, immediately leave this step and start opening doors using the Three A’s above, and continue as if no incivility had happened.


Steady escalation means:

  • You move slowly but resolutely down a path, on which
  • Their options become steadily and irrevocably narrower and narrower,
  • While you assure them that you want to find a solution together, otherwise you WILL take action on your own,
  • Until they MUST decide on one outcome or another within a reasonable time frame.

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.

Why “The Three A’s” Work

“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:

  • Works even when only one person uses it
  • Is based on proven methods
  • Is simple
  • Puts you in control
  • Feels good
  • Keeps both of you safe
  • Moves both hearts towards peace instead of war
  • Gives everyone benefit of the doubt
  • Ends the temptation to retaliate
  • Encourages positive discussion
  • Inspires change
  • Becomes habit
  • Gives you a way out when needed

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.

Actual Results and Comments

“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

More Information and Acknowledgements

Neverboss: Great Leadership by Letting Go, The Rapid Blueprint for Empowering Leadership

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.

Connect, follow, and chat with Kevin Crenshaw on LinkedIn or Twitter.