The Four A’s

Maria Simpson’s Two Minute Training

Sometimes remembering steps in a process can be difficult, especially if you are in a conflict-fraught situation. It’s hard to remember the steps, especially in the right order, under those circumstances. So here’s a simple way to remember a conflict resolution process.

Four A’s: Acknowledge, Accept, Appreciate, Apologize.

Acknowledge: that a problem, conflict, misunderstanding exists. Climb out of the comfort of denial.

Accept: responsibility for being part of the conflict even if you got dragged into it. Too late for that defense.

Appreciate: the interests of all parties in the discussion. You may dismiss the interests of the other party or consider them trivial, but they are not any more trivial than your own and deserve to be respected. Without acknowledging them and taking them into consideration in the resolution, the conflict will not go away. During one debt collection case I mediated, one of the attorneys commented that it was a very small case, only $1,200, and in the scheme of the legal system, very small indeed. I reminded him gently that if you are being sued for that amount and you are bordering on bankruptcy, then that is a very big amount and not to be dismissed. After all, if you’re suing to recover it, then it must be big enough to be worth the effort.

Apologize: when you have done something wrong but not before understanding what you might be apologizing for. Apologizing is sometimes recommended as the first thing to do in a difficult situation. It helps the other parties understand that you are serious about reaching a fair resolution, that you recognize your role in the problem, and that you take their interests seriously. Needless to say, the apology has to be sincere. One of these political apologies (I’m sorry if something I might have done was misinterpreted by anyone) will not do.

Sam Horn, who wrote Tongue Fu!, had a few other A’s in her process that are worth including. Her system is Acknowledge, Ask, Appreciate.

Acknowledge the other party’s feelings. Don’t discount how anyone feels. That can be an indication of what is needed for a lasting resolution.

Ask a curious, not a challenging, question. Ask for information so that more options for resolution can be created than what seem to be on the table at the moment. A challenging question is often used as an accusation (ISN’T IT TRUE THAT . . . !!!) and that will push people away from the discussion and into impasse.

Appreciate the other people involved, and try to get their needs met as well as your own.

Sam also included Apologize, and I add the caution of not apologizing too quickly or you may apologize for something for which you are not responsible. In that case, be sure that an apology doesn’t mean “I take full responsibility” when you really mean, “It’s terrible that this happened to you.”

Actually, it might not really matter which of these A’s you remember. They’re all helpful, and the process works at home, at work, or in a formal dispute resolution situation.

Maybe the last A should be “Attempt” to incorporate these steps into your discussions so that disagreements might settle faster.


Maria Simpson

Maria Simpson, Ph.D. is an executive coach, consultant, trainer and mediator who has worked extensively with the corporate, non-profit and conflict resolution communities to promote incorporating conflict resolution into organizational systems and training people in the skills and approaches of mediation. MORE >

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