The AAAnds Method

AAAnds: Stay Safe, Stop Hostility, and Inspire Change

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” – Gandhi

We can’t change others, so we need a peaceful way to safety leave the hostility treadmill and invite others to join us. We call it “AAAnds.”

When you feel fear or like defending yourself, that’s your signal (trigger) to follow the “AAAnds” steps in order:

  • Acknowledge feelings, good intentions, and authority. (Mutual Empathy)
  • Agree with whatever you can, logically. (Mutual Respect)
  • Ask or invite to mutual purpose, including positives of civility. (Mutual Purpose)

If it persists, is abusive, or to influence public venues (like presidential debates):

  • Name it out loud, clearly and specifically using the icons on this site..
  • Disengage or Stand still until it stops, repeating the steps above as needed.

Once the tone changes, continue as if no incivility had happened.

Why AAAnds Works

““Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.”” – – Max Lucado

AAA is similar to the three steps of Verbal Aikido, but you can learn it instantly because it aligns with heart, mind, path—the three steps of changing things when change is hard (see Switch, the excellent book by Chip and Dan Heath).

When AAA fails, the final steps (nds) protect you from the impact of intentional verbal or emotional abuse.


  • Puts you in control
  • Gives everyone benefit of the doubt
  • Ends the temptation to retaliate
  • Blunts fear and pain
  • Lets everyone save face
  • Encourages great, positive discussion
  • Inspires change
  • Becomes habit
  • Stops verbal and emotional violence

Note: If you are ever in physical danger, leave immediately.
These steps are only for verbal and emotional hostility.

Details of Using AAAnds

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. —The Dalai Lama

ACKNOWLEDGE feelings, good intentions, authority. (Mutual Empathy, Heart)

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

  • Assume good intentions. People do things for good reasons. (When they don’t, assuming good reasons wins their hearts anyway.)
    Example: “You obviously care deeply about this.”
  • Seek first to understand. —Stephen Covey Helping someone feel understood and accepted is the most basic form of empathy.
    Example: “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying/feeling.” Then repeat what you understand.
    Your Goal: To hear them say: “That’s right.”
  • Then focus on their feelings.
    Example: “I’d be upset too.”
  • If they are in a position of power or authority, acknowledge that too.
    Example: “I respect the fact that you’re the boss,” or “I realize this is your call.”

AGREE with whatever you can, logically. (Mutual Respect, Mind)

A gentle answer deflects anger. —Proverbs 15:1

  • “I agree” are two powerful words that create unity. Agree with whatever you can from their original statement.
    Example: “I agree, we can’t have hate and prejudice.”
    Example: “Yeah, the economy concerns me too.”
  • Agree to multiple points when possible. According to this study, competition changes to cooperation after more than one “round” of reduced competition.

ASK or invite them to a mutual purpose. (Mutual Purpose, Path)

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. —Helen Keller

  • Find common objectives and interests and invite them to join you in realizing them.
    Example: “Can we remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing” each other? – Barack Obama speaking on abortion at Notre Dame, 2009
    Example: “We both agree that prejudice hurts and we need to keep our airports safe. How can we handle both needs at the same time?”

If it persists, is abusive, or to influence public venues like debates via social media:

Forbidden Planet Monster Made Visible

NAME it out loud, clearly and specifically.

Naming is powerful because it’s a form of containment. There’s a terrifying unseen monster in the sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet. However, the fear subsides when a ray gun gives it shape. Verbal and emotional abuse is no different. Shining a bright light on verbal violence creates safety for you and others because you see it for what it is.

  • Name the problem communication with the most gentle label you can for the situation:
    • Gentle labels of mutual empathy, mutual respect, and mutual purpose work best in relationships, or in workplaces where these standards have been set.
    • Strong labels are better for blatant or anonymous attacks. They create more firmness, clarity, and safety for you and others.
  • Don’t accuse. Label the words or actions, not the person.
  • Don’t “run up the score” by listing all the ways the words were offensive. One label is usually best.
  • Link to the symbol on this site (to name the hostility) when appropriate. This clarifies the issue and educates people.
    Public Example: “Saying ‘racist’ is name calling and labeling. It’s verbal abuse, not truth.”
    Link to: Name Calling or Labeling.Family Conversation Example: “I’m not feeling mutual respect from you right now.”
    Don’t point them here unless they challenge the importance of Mutual Respect.

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

DISENGAGE or STAND STILL until it stops.

  • Never let things move forward until the tone changes.
  • REPEAT steps above if the incivility continues. Label hostility and abuse more and more pointedly until it stops. Move from the simple labels to the precise labels. Point them to this site.
  • State your reason once and leave if needed.Public Example: “Can we discuss our feelings and facts with mutual respect? Start with yours and I’ll listen and try to understand respectfully.”
    Link to: Name Calling or Labeling.Online Example: “You have the right to speak as you wish, and I have the right to leave when you call people names instead of debating facts. I wish you the best.”
    Link to: Name Calling or Labeling.
    If they are a repeat offender (“trolling”) quietly blocking them for good (“unfriending”) is the best approach. You don’t have to defend your choice to block anyone, you always have the right to verbal and emotional safety
    Family Conversation Example: “Can we have mutual respect first? Then we can discuss this.”
    Don’t point them here unless they challenge the importance of mutual respect.

Once the tone changes, continue as if no incivility had happened. Pretending it never happened lets them save face and feel good about the new conversation.

Image Credits

“Not Hitler” courtesy of J. D. Falk, see original and Creative Commons license terms.
“Forbidden Planet” Copyright © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Columbia Broadcasting System / Criterion Collection, The / MGM/UA Home Entertainment / Turner Entertainment / Warner Home Video, fair use/teaching/review.