2536 Columbine Circle
Lafayette, CO 80026
Robin N. Amadei, Director
phone: 303-604-1960
fax: 303-604-6278
Email: ramadei@aol.com
Common Ground Mediation and Coaching, LLC
Helping People Reach Common Ground


Robin N. Amadei

Common Ground Mediation and Coaching, LLC
www.commongroundmediation.com (Website)
303-604-1960 (Office)

The demands of the 21st century workplace require people with diverse backgrounds, personalities, communication styles, and job responsibilities to work together to attain organizational goals.  Not only do we need to learn each others’ language, but we need to work through issues of potential or actual conflict to accomplish our objectives.  The skills of rapport-building, deep listening and effective problem-solving are key to professional and personal success. 

The TRANSFORM® model of conflict resolution incorporates the following components:

            Tactful Talk is necessary;
            Recognition of the needs of self and others takes place;
            Authenticity in working together to reach a common goal is valued;
            Needs of all parties are met;
            Seeking to understand is a primary goal;
            Feelings are expressed as appropriate;
            Outcomes are win-win;
            Rapport is enhanced; and
            Mutual satisfaction is obtained.

This article will outline the TRANSFORM® approach and provide the reader with tools that can be used every day to enhance communication and resolve conflicts.

1.  Tactful Talk:

To have a value-producing conversation, or to resolve conflict, communication is key.  The conversation might be in person, over the telephone or in an e-mail.  In any event, the words that are selected, the tone used, and the veracity of what is expressed is key to creating an enriching experience for all parties to the conversation. 

Conversation is especially difficult when there is a conflict or emotions are involved in some way. 

When we are in conflict, our emotions are often in turmoil.  When emotions kick in, our primal responses come to the forefront. In the ‘old days’ when our ancestors were faced with a threat, the threat usually came from some sort of environmental element, such as a lion or tiger ready to attack.  Instinctively, our ancestors would either ‘fight’, ‘flee’ or ‘freeze’.  These reactions have been deeply ingrained in our biology. Therefore, when we in the 21st century are faced with a threat, whether it be physical, such as a tiger in the vicinity, or whether it be social, such as a verbal attack from a co-worker, the same biology kicks in.  Our first reaction, based upon the situation and our own personality, will be to ‘fight’, ‘flee’ or ‘freeze’. 

When faced with a conflict situation, or when our emotions are triggered in some way, the most effective thing that we can do is nothing at all, at least until the biological reaction has been recognized and controlled.  If we open our mouths while emotions are surging, we are likely to react bio-reactively.[1]  That is, the first thing out of our mouths will be reflective of a biological reaction as opposed to a statement that will be helpful towards resolution.

Tactful Talk, requires us to register and control our emotional response before beginning to speak. This is nothing more than we were told as children, ie “Think before you speak!”  We should think about how we can say what is on our minds in a manner that has the greatest likelihood of being heard.  For example, we may think that the other party is a total jerk.  Yet, if we tell her that, is there a greater or lesser likelihood of her listening to what else we have to say?  

Tactful Talk is Tricky.  Everyone is aware of the ‘golden rule’, which is ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’.  Tactful Talk, however, requires more.  It is not enough to follow the ‘golden rule’.  Rather, we must follow the ‘platinum rule’, which requires us to ‘do unto others as they would like to be treated’.  This requires us to summon in our minds all we know about the other party and think about how we might convey our message in a manner that they can hear it.  An approach or comment that would not bother us, may set off our counterpart.  For example, say that we are direct in our communication style, but the party with whom we have a conflict is indirect.  Although we would be fine if he ‘told us how it is’, he would take great umbrage at this approach.  It would be counterproductive to approach him directly if he would be too threatened by this and, in fact, the conflict could be exacerbated. 

 So, how can we say what needs to be said in a way that the other person can hear it.  Although pretty basic, the following formula may be helpful:

a.  I Feel (describing one’s own emotions, such as ‘angry’, ‘frustrated’, ‘sad’, etc., as opposed to “I feel that you are a jerk”)

                        b.  Because (describing the situation factually, without any judgement)

                        c.  I Request (asking what you would like the other person to do)

2.  Recognition:

Recognition requires parties in a conversation to “choose to become more open, attentive, sympathetic and responsive to the situation of the other party, thereby expanding (our) perspective to include an appreciation for another’s situation.”[2]  To truly communicate with one another, it is important to ‘walk in the shoes of the other’ to the extent possible.  To truly recognize another’s point of view, it is necessary to deeply listen to the other.  It is also necessary to set aside our own judgements about the situation. 

It is extremely difficult to focus completely on the other person when we have our own needs and feelings.  As the other person is speaking, however, anything in our own minds other than the message being conveyed is a distraction.  Our minds can not completely and effectively be doing two things at the same time.  When we listen as if each word contains something important to understand and recognize we are often amazed at what we learn!

3.  Authenticity:

True conversation requires all parties to the communication to be Authentic. Authenticity requires absolute honesty, respectfully communicated.  This is especially difficult when we are involved in a conflict or our emotions are aroused.  Often, issues of integrity and/or trust are at the root of interpersonal conflict.  The only way out of this morass is to vow to be truthful, no matter what, and then to be truthful, 100% of the time.  So, how can we be truthful and tactful so that we can transform the conflict situation.  We begin by our intention.  If we go into the communication situation with an intention to be open and honest and to do what it takes to create value or to resolve the conflict, the chances are greatly enhanced that we will be successful. This requires us to be honest with ourselves.  Are we going into this discussion to learn something, create value, solve the problem or to prove that we are right?  If our intention is the latter, even if we are being honest, we may sabotage the conversation. 

In other situations, we may need to ask whether our intention to not hurt someone’s feelings is  getting in the way of resolving an issue.  If we varnish the truth to avoid dealing with the true issues that need to be discussed, will we truly have created value or crafted a lasting resolution (even if the presenting issue is resolved)?  Probably not. It is likely that our discomfort will ‘go underground’, further sabotaging the working relationship or friendship.[3]  Sometimes we must raise uncomfortable issues, like it or not.  Of course we need to be delicate and think about how we can put difficult issues on the table. That is where Tactful Talk, discussed above, comes in. 

4.  Needs:

Parties to a conversation are interdependent, or they would not be in the conversation to begin with.  Each party to the conversation has one or more needs that can be met by the other party to the conversation.  Needs could include the desire for: a sounding board, a product or service, learning, ideas, assistance on a project, etc.  According to Christopher Moore, needs fall within one or more of the following categories[4]:  

a. Procedural (for the communication and/or the implementation plan to provide procedural equity)

            b. Psychological (respect, acknowledgment, status, save face, self esteem, etc.)

            c. Substantive (the product or service, salary increase, promotion, etc.)

Often, we tend to focus on our own and each other’s substantive needs.  Behind each substantive need, however, is often a very strong psychological need.  If the psychological need is not met, the conversation may not be satisfying from either party’s perspective.   

Also, parties in conversation, especially when there is conflict, will often tend to focus on their positions instead of their needs.  The distinction between positions and needs is important.  Another word for  position is ‘demand’.  Typically when one party puts forth a position, the other party reacts to that position by responding with a counter-position.  The conversation then goes from bad to worse.  

Instead of focusing on positions, parties in conversation should focus on needs. We should be clear about our own needs and be open to understanding the other party’s needs as well.  The ultimate purpose of the conversation should then be to explore for ways to get both parties’ needs met.   

5.  Seek to Understand    

Stephen Covey advises in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that we “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.[5]  For others to listen to us, we need to listen to them.  As we put aside our own judgements to focus on the needs and feelings of others, an amazing thing happens.  The other person will then more readily listen to us!  

Communication guidelines will help each party in their quest to ‘Seek to understand’.  Such guidelines might include: 

                        a. Use language of mutual respect

                        b. Let each person speak without interruption

                        c. Be open and honest

                        d. Take a break if either person asks for one

                        e. Be open to hearing things that we disagree with 

Another important aspect of ‘Seeking to Understand’ includes the recommendation to not ascribe motivations to the other person.  We may think that we know why someone did or said something, but we might be wrong.  Sometimes when we do not have a complete information set, we fill in the blanks.  If we do not have a positive relationship with the other party we may incorrectly fill in the blanks with negative information.  Only through listening to understand can we clear up our mis-perceptions and create opportunities for resolution.

6.  Feelings

Although feelings serve as very strong motivators in a conversation, they are often not put on the table.  In fact, many people would rather have an eye poked out than enter into a conversation where feelings might be discussed. Although we are often uncomfortable discussing our feelings, they show up anyway in our communication.  We often take the positions that we do in conversations because of strong feelings.  Feelings often block our ability to be rational.  And feelings are what make us human!

So how can we deal with feelings in a conversation?  When speaking, we need to be clear about our feelings, and to be courageous enough to own them.  There is a difference between, “I feel that you are a slob” (Not a feeling, but a judgement) and “I feel overwhelmed (a feeling) when there are papers all over the common area”

As listeners, we should acknowledge feelings.  By acknowledging another person’s feelings we are not necessarily agreeing with them.  For example, saying to the speaker “It sounds like you are overwhelmed...”, is a validation of feelings without saying that we agree.  As listeners, we appropriately attribute the feeling to the speaker, providing validation.  This approach helps to de-escalate emotions so that we can move forward in the conversation.    

7.  Outcomes are Win-Win:

The goal for an effective conversation should be a win-win outcome.  It is not necessary for someone else to lose for us to win.  To create the win-win result, we must understand the needs (procedural, psychological and substantive) of all parties completely. Then, we must work together to search for options that will meet as many of the total needs as possible.  When we have come as close as possible to maximizing joint gains, not only will each of us feel ‘good about the deal’, but we will have enhanced the relationship in the process.  We will also have set a pattern for future conversations.

8.  Rapport:  

When we have an effective, value producing conversation rapport is enhanced.  We feel good about ourselves and the other person.  We look forward to continued communication and trust is built.  We know that we can count on the other person to help us meet our goals, whether they are work-related or personal. 

9.  Mutual Satisfaction:

When we view our conversations as quests for mutual satisfaction, the possibility of maximizing  joint gains is within our grasp.  Excellent communicators are rewarded by more meaningful and satisfying relationships, more challenging and higher paying employment opportunities and happier lives.


Prior to engaging in your next important conversation, negotiation, or conflict discussion, consider the TRANSFORM® conversational model.  Talk Tactfully, Recognize the other, be Authentic, focus on Needs, Seek to understand and express and validate Feelings.  By communicating consistently with these values, you will obtain Outcomes that are win-win, Rapport will be enhanced and you will be Mutually satisfied.  You have everything to gain!

                                                                   END NOTES

[1]. Connolly, Mickey and Rianoshek, Richard, High Performance Collaboration, Boulder, CO: Conversant Solutions, LLC (2000).

[2]. Baruch Bush, Robert and Folger, Joseph A, The Promise of Mediation, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers (1994).

[3]. Stone, Douglas; Patton, Bruce; and Heen, Sheila, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, New York: Penguin Group (1999).

[4]. Moore, Christopher W., The Mediation Process, 2nd Edition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers (1996).

[5].Covey, Stephen R., The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, New York: Simon & Schuster (1989).

Helping People Reach Common Ground