AIMing for Effective Communication

Clear communication does not always prevent conflict, but unclear communication can certainly incite it. Beyond the implications for conflict prevention, communicating effectively can influence and inspire. It can help shape outcomes and produce results.

J.D. Schramm, the Class of 1978 Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, recently provided three powerful communications insights in “How Leaders Communicate Effectively.” A brief synopsis of Professor Schramm’s advice is below.

The Framework

Schramm outlines a simple framework for preparing for communications of all kinds – emails, speeches, presentations, text message, telephone conversations; etc. The framework, known as AIM, poses three broad questions, “Who is my audience? What is my intent? And what is my message?”

This reflective exercise is a great way to pause and consider what you really want to say. By defining what you would like to accomplish across the domains of audience, intention, and message, you will be in a much better position for your communication to be understood as it was intended.

Understanding Your Audience

Many times we have the option to communicate with others face-to-face, but at other times we may be limited to a phone call or email. As we move further away from face-to-face communication, we lose two critical elements of the communication – body language and tone of voice – which constitute a much higher percentage of how communications are understood than the actual content of a message (i.e. the words).

This dilemma creates the need for us to understand our audience as fully as possible to craft a message that really connects with them and their interests. By understanding our audience more deeply, we can speak to them in a powerful, personal way in spite of an impersonal communication medium. As you prepare you message, answer questions like –

  • “What inspires them to action?”
  • “Where do they gather?”
  • “What resources do they rely on?”
  • “What sources of news do they read?”
  • “What are their peer groups of influence?”

Consider All Three Elements of Communication

As previously noted, there are three elements to communications – body language, tone of voice, and words. Schramm describes these elements as visual, vocal, and verbal, and emphasizes how important the visual or body language element is for effective communication.

All three of the aspects of communication can work in harmony or discord. The more synchronized the elements are in communicating the same thing, the more harmonious and effective you communicate. But if your body language conflicts with the words you are communicating (i.e. you a saying how interested you are but you have your arms crossed), you create dissonance in your listener’s experience.

The key is to be mindful of how well you are synchronizing the three elements of  communication to deliver a clear message. The higher the stakes of the communication, the more important this becomes.

Using the AIM framework, considering your audience, and synchronizing the elements of communication will go a long way to prevent unnecessary conflict that arises from ineffective communication and will also serve to make you a more powerful and persuasive communicator across a variety of communication mediums.



J.D. Schramm, “J.D. Schramm: How to Communicate with Your Audience,” Insights by Stanford Business from Stanford Graduate School of Business, Posted January 6, 2015,

Best Practices for Facilitating Victim Offender Conferences

I absolutely love facilitating Victim Offender Conferences. This month, I wanted to honor that love by pulling together some of the best practices for engaging victims and offenders in forward looking dialogue. Though the the actual meeting between the victim and offender of a crime only takes place after a long and careful preparatory process, this post will focus on skills used in that face-to-face meeting. The quoted material is from two seminal works of the genre – Mark Umbreit’s “Mediation of Victim Offender Conflict” and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Howard Zehr’s Victim Offender Conferencing in Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System. I have organized the content into six categories: Notes on Process, Convening the Conference, Opening Remarks, Communicating, Negotiating, and Closing.


The Climate of the Conference. “There is bound to be tension. Some tension is good, but if it is too high, the participants’ ability to see each other objectively may be reduced. Try, therefore, to establish a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere. Don’t try to head off all conflict, though; feelings may need to be expressed and any hidden feelings or agenda need to be brought out. In fact, some argue that the more emotions that are expressed, the greater the likelihood of real reconciliation.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

The Tone of the Conference. “The tone that is set depends largely on the mediator’s style. As a rule of thumb, a mixture of formality and informality seems advisable; we don’t usually want highly formal meetings, but we do want a sense that this is a serious, purposeful meeting and that someone is in charge.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Share Information Before Discussing Restitution. “Most often, the victims and offenders involved in mediation had no prior relationship. Rather than a primary emphasis upon restitution collection, many victim offender mediation and reconciliation programs first emphasize the importance of allowing enough time to address the frequent need for information about the offense and the related feelings of both parties. Restitution is an important additional goal, but for many programs, only primarily as a symbol of conflict resolution or ‘reconciliation.’” (Umbreit)

Share Facts Before Feelings. “It is often helpful to begin reviewing what happened. This does not need to be in great detail, but there needs to be a basic agreement on what happened during the offense, and both victim and offender need to know what happened to the other after that…From there, you can move to a discussion of feelings. Both offender and victim should be encouraged to recall his or her initial feelings at the time of the offense, as well as any feelings and frustrations since then. If he/she does not offer any, ask about them. This venting of feelings is critical.” (Amstutz and Zehr)


Setup the Room with the Participants in Mind. “The seating arrangement should be such that the victim and offender have the opportunity to face one another unless that seems inappropriate…Sitting at a table is also appropriate because it helps to create safe boundaries…It is appropriate for the facilitator to assign seats as people arrive in order to create a safe environment for everyone.” (Amstutz & Zehr)


Set the Stage for a Productive Encounter with Strong Opening Remarks. “An explanation of the order and purpose of the meeting—e.g. ‘We are here to review what happened in the case and to give everyone a chance to ask tell his or her story, to ask questions and then to discuss options that will help to make things as right as possible.’ Ground rules are important. An example ‘Out of respect for one another it would be helpful if only one person speaks at a time.’ The facilitator can also mention that if either party has a question and it is not their turn to speak, they should feel free to jot the question on a piece of paper so that it is not forgotten. Be sure to secure agreement from all parties regarding ground rules…If your program utilizes volunteers, let parties know you are a volunteer representing a community group and, therefore, do not represent the probation department or the court. Your role is to facilitate the meeting, not to direct the outcome.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Set an Agenda to Help Participants Understand How the Conference will Unfold. “The meeting begins with the mediator explaining his or her role, identifying the agenda, and stating any communication ground rules that may be necessary.” (Umbreit) It is important to have a plan and direction in mind. We recommend the following:

  • Introductory comments;
  • Allow each party to describe how they experienced the offense (both facts and feelings) and to acknowledge the injustice/violation that has occurred;
  • Work at restoring equity (restitution);
  • Discussion of future intentions;
  • Signing of contract; and
  • Closing comments, including the option of a final meeting once restitution is complete.” (Amstutz & Zehr)


Let the Parties do the Talking. “Participants will know they need to speak to each other…At first it may be difficult for them to do this. They may be more comfortable looking at the facilitator. Facilitators can help them overcome their reluctance to look at one another by directing their own focus to the listener and away from the speaker.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Intervene Only When Necessary. “Once the parties are speaking directly to each other within the context of the stated purpose of the mediation session, the mediator should only intervene to help clarify issues, make transitions, or prevent any abuse.” (Umbreit)

But Do Intervene to Stop the Participants from Arguing. “Arguing is unproductive and is usually a form of fact finding. Interrupt the process and reiterate the task at hand, e.g. to describe what happened and its impact. If arguing continues, summarize and suggest that to continue arguing is unproductive. Point out that they may need to agree to disagree. Encourage each of the participants to be open and proceed in a mutual problem-solving mode, using caucus if necessary. If arguing continues, end the conference, giving participants the option to try again at a later date.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Practice the Difficult Art of Silence. “The mediator’s most effective skill is listening attentively. Participants often need space to collect their thoughts before speaking or responding to questions. Do not rush the process.” (Amstutz & Zehr) “In uncomfortable moments of silence when the mediator has an urge to comment, he or she should first count to ten and allow more space for the parties to think things through and initiate interaction with each other.” (Umbreit)

Encourage Questions that Build Understanding. “This will probably lead to a variety of questions: victims usually want to know why they or their property were singled out, how the offense was committed, etc. Such questions should be encouraged…One helpful question may be to ask the victim might be ‘Can you tell us what happened?’ and then follow up with ‘How did you feel at the time?’ A second and third question could be ‘How have you felt since the incident’ and ‘What has happened since that time?’” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Reframe Language that Attacks. “Neutral rephrasing of facts and/or issues helps to remove value-laden language and to balance intense emotions. The facilitator restates what one participant has said that may have angered another. The content of the message is repeated without the ‘attack.’ Reframing can help a speaker convey information without the listener getting defensive. Reframing the statement shifts the focus away from the position toward the underlying needs and interests of the speaker.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Invoke the Ground Rules as a Standard of Conduct. “Give participants a chance when ground rules are broken by reminding them of what they verbally agreed to in the beginning of the conference (e.g. no name calling, no interrupting, being respectful). Let them know that if one or the other continues to interfere with the process that the conference will terminate.” (Amstutz & Zehr)


There are Many Possible Ways to Restore Equity. “Keep in mind that restoring equity may take a number of forms; it may take the form of a money payment and/or might involve a service to either the victim or the community. In a few cases, contracts may involve certain specified behavior a juvenile offender may be asked to agree that he or she will not climb a tree, or will stay off certain property, and that is an acceptable contract. On occasion the victim may ask for no restitution at all. An apology may be an important part of this restoration process. In any case, make sure that the contract reflects what was agreed upon.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Pivoting to Negotiation. “Discussing how to restore equity includes reviewing the actual damages, agreeing, if possible, on what was actually damaged, looking at any damage estimates that may be available and then discussing a fair settlement…Begin by suggesting that it is time to discuss what should be done to repair the harm, then perhaps ask the victim to explain the damages and to describe what might help to make things right. If the victim provides a figure or some other idea of a fair settlement, the mediator should then ask the offender how she or he feels about that. He or she may agree that it sounds fair.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Allow the Participants to Negotiate Their Own Agreement. “The victim and offender should negotiate this contract themselves, with minimum input from the mediator. And if they can reach no agreement, it may be necessary to point out the consequences of non-agreement. It is important to remember that the victim and offender do not have to reach a settlement – some cases simply can’t be resolved in such a meeting. However, statistics show that once a case does come to a meeting an agreement is reached 98% of the time.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Pause and Summarize if the Participants get Stuck. “A brief summary of what has been said, or simple repetition, can help participants think of other things they can say to get the discussion flowing. Don’t overdo summarizing.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Offer to Help if the Participants get Stuck. “If they say yes, refrain from giving a specific solution. Instead, suggest they brainstorm, trade places (if I were you I’d want…I’d offer to…), or make a list of possibilities including pros and cons. If that doesn’t help them generate ideas you might ask if they’d like you to explain common options again: monetary restitution, community service, personal service, donation to charity, school grade improvement, other creative solutions.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Closing the Negotiation. “Make sure that victim and offender are perfectly clear about what they are agreeing to. Restate the agreement, and then ask both victim and offender individually whether they are comfortable with this or whether this reflects their understanding. Make sure the agreement specifies clearly and exactly what the settlement is, and when and how it is to be repaid. Fill out a contract…specifying all of the terms as clearly as possible (including how and when payment is due) and then have each sign it. If they wish a copy of it, a copy can be sent to them or you can fill out another copy.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Negotiations Ending without Agreement. “If no agreement is reached, have the victim and offender sign the contract form stating no agreement possible at this time…The mediator should inform the victim that he or she may wish to file in small claims court. If the case has been referred by the courts or the probation department, it should be noted that the case will go back to this referring agency, where restitution may be set.” (Amstutz & Zehr)


Have the Participants Discuss Future Intentions. “It is important for victims to feel a sense of security about their future…it is helpful for the offender and victim to bring the process to closure by talking about what happens next. In order to restore a sense of trust, both victim and offender are asked to acknowledge the importance of the contract and for the offender to assure the victim verbally and in writing that the offense will not re-occur.” (Amstutz & Zehr)

Closing the Conference. “Again, there is no right way to end. If agreement has been reached, it may be well to restate briefly what has been decided…The mediator may also want to congratulate them for the progress made, ask them how they feel about the meeting at this point or summarize any reconciliation that has occurred.” (Amstutz & Zehr)



  • Mark S. Umbreit, “Mediation of Victim Offender Conflict,” Journal of Dispute Resolution, 1988,
  • Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Howard Zehr, Victim Offender Conferencing in Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Justice System, 1998,

Allowing Mindfulness to Inform Our Responses to Conflict

Those of us who are familiar with conflict know that there means of responding to conflict that are more skillful than others. William Ury notes in Getting Past No: Negotiating With Difficult People that there are three common, reactive responses to conflict – avoiding, accommodating, and competing.1 Those of us who have had the experience of poorly reacting to conflict or being unsure of the best response to a confrontation can easily see the accuracy of Ury’s assessment.

The range of reactions varies from extreme conflict avoidance to high-frequency accommodation to raging competition, and these responses are often the result of a lifetime of conditioning. Most often, these reactions arise from an inability to effectively cope with the challenging thoughts and emotions that can accompany conflict.

In the right situation, any of the aforementioned responses can be appropriate, but it is our almost exclusive reliance on a primary response (i.e. we usually avoid conflict, if at all possible), that makes for ineffective conflict management. What is important to note about these responses to conflict is that, for many of us, our responses are instinctual in nature. Often times, we unconsciously respond to the unpleasant stimuli of conflict before considering whether or not our response is really the most effective approach for the situation.

Those of us who are avoiders frequently shy away from conflict because we are fearful of how we might handle the differences we experience with others. We are afraid we might lose our cool, concede too much, or offend our counterpart by advocating for our own interests. This apprehension leads us to avoid conflict altogether.

We who often respond to conflict by accommodating the needs of the other side frequently do so out of fear that we may damage our relationship with the other party. We are afraid that asserting our own needs in a situation may be seen as self-centered, too aggressive, or lacking concern for the needs of the other side.

Then there are those of us who are driven by competitive motives. We want to win, or sometimes to dominate, because we are afraid to cope with the internal difficulties we experience when we lose. Contrary to the accommodator and the avoider, the competitor’s drive often causes them to value the object of the negotiation over the negotiators.

These descriptions of the basic motivations underlying our instinctive responses to conflict are far from complete, as they are highly complex and vary from individual to individual and situation to situation. However, these illustrations hopefully make clear that our conditioned responses to conflict are generally driven by emotional concerns.

It becomes clear that we need a way to pause before letting our default response take over if we are to be more skillful at addressing conflict in a situationally-appropriate manner. One technique for doing this is a mindfulness practice known by the acronym RAIN – Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-Identification.

RAIN is a practice developed by Michelle McDonald, a mindfulness teacher with over thirty years of experience teaching vipassana meditation and the co-founder of Vipassana Hawaii. The practice is intended to cultivate a spacious self-awareness and offer support for working with challenging thoughts and emotions.”2

As described by Tara Brach author of True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart, the RAIN practice involves recognizing what is happening, allowing life to be just as it is, investigating the inner experience with kindness, and realizing non-identification, which gives way to open awareness.3


The first step of the RAIN process involves pausing to recognize the sensations in the body, feelings, and thoughts that are present in your inner experience. It can be tempting to ignore unpleasant thoughts or feelings or to form judgements about those thoughts and feelings, but our aim in this step of the process is to observe without an internal or external reaction. One useful piece of advice for this step is to be friendly with yourself as you recognize what is happening within your mind and body.

Sometimes, asking ourselves a question can help initiate a clearer recognition of our present moment experience. Questions like, “What am I feeling right now?” or “What do I really think/feel about this situation?” or even “What is happening inside me right now?” help us to focus our energy towards a clear recognition of our inner experience.

Once we recognize our sensations, emotions, or thoughts, it is helpful to name them – “anger,” “sadness,” “tightness in the throat,” “worry about mother,” “loneliness,” etc. Naming what is happening within you allows for a clearer connection to the experience.


According to Branch, the next step is to “allow life to be just as it is.” This entails letting the difficult experience exist without trying to change it. Often, our response to difficult thoughts and emotions is one of three forms of aversion – we ignore the unpleasantness, we resist the unpleasantness, or we grasp for something that will distract us from the unpleasantness. When practicing RAIN, we avoid these temptations and allow the experience to be.

A useful skill when practicing this step is to use a word or phrase to support your intention to allow the experience to be as it is. Branch notes that mentally saying “yes” to the experience is a way to express your consent to the sensations, feelings, or thoughts that have arisen within your awareness. This expression both reminds you of your intention in practicing this process and also plants a seed that you are not the experience – a  theme addressed in a later step.


The third step in the RAIN process may not always be necessary. You may have regained a sense of mental balance through simply recognizing a difficult experience and allowing it to be. Other times, the first two steps are not enough. This is especially true for recurring difficulties like marital problems or entrenched issues with your colleagues. In these cases, investigating your experience in greater depth is useful. You can ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the feeling tone of this experience (positive, negative, or neutral)?
  • What event triggered this difficult experience?
  • Why was that event triggering to me?
  • Have similar events triggered me before?
  • What story am I telling myself about these feelings?
  • What story are these feelings telling me?
  • What alternative stories exist for these difficult feelings?
  • How realistic is the story I am telling myself?
  • What bodily sensations are connected to this experience?


The final step is not so much an actionable step as it is a result of the process. Non-identification means that through recognizing, allowing, and possibly investigating your experience, you became aware that you were not the sensation, emotion, or thought that was causing you difficulty. It means that you have ceased to identify yourself with your difficulty and instead are able to see the difficulty as a small, ephemeral part of the large mosaic of our present time experience. With non-identification, we have successfully shifted our perspective towards seeing the streaming, constantly changing (however subtly) nature of our experience.

RAIN is a method that, when consistently utilized, can free us from our conditioned, instinctive responses of avoiding, competing, or accommodating. By recognizing, allowing, investigating, and not identifying with the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that lead us towards our conditioned responses, we allow for awareness and wisdom to guide our engagement in conflict.



  1. William Ury, Getting Past No: Negotiating With Difficult People, (Bantam Books, 1991)
  2. Rick Hanson, “Let it RAIN,” Wildmind Buddhist Meditation, Last Modified September 4, 2012,
  3. Tara Brach, “Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN,” Adapted from True Refuge (Bantam, 2013), Last Accessed December 13, 2014,

Other Works Referenced

  • Therese Borchard, “4 Quick Mindfulness Techniques,” Psych Central, Last Accessed December 13, 2014,
  • “Using RAIN,” Last Accessed December 13, 2014,
  • Meg Selig, “Manage Emotional Pains with RAINS,” Psychology Today, Last Modified February 6, 2012,

Dealing with Psychological Bias at the Negotiation Table

Psychological biases have the potential to significantly distort with the flow of communication, the interpretation of meaning, and ultimately the outcome of negotiations. Awareness of these biases is in no way a panacea against their negative impacts, but the ability to spot and understand the likely psychological factors at play in a negotiation can bring a level of clarity and insight that will be useful to the negotiator.

Perspective forms the basis of many of the psychological biases that inhibit successful negotiation. Individuals hold differing perspectives of reality and those perspectives both define the nature of conflicts they find themselves in and how they behave within those conflicts. Or as Archie Zariski quoting Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, notes “the world everyone sees is not the world but a world which we bring forth with others.”1 Understanding that a natural tension exists between these shared worlds is the basis for using awareness of bias within the negotiation process as tool for effectively negotiating.

Fixed Pie Bias: The fixed pie bias describes the default assumption held by many negotiators that a gain for one party will come at the expense of an equivalent loss for the other party. This assumption excludes the possibility of shared interests between the parties, and leads to limited, distrustful negotiations that often forego the opportunity to explore each party’s priorities and needs.2

Fundamental Attribution Error: Lee Ross of Stanford University defined the fundamental attribution error as “the tendency for attributers to underestimate the impact of situational factors and to overestimate the role of dispositional factors in controlling behavior.”3 In other words, this bias describes the tendency to exaggerate the influence of one’s character while underestimating the influence of situational context when explaining the actions or intentions of others. The implications for negotiations are vast, but in general negotiators should be aware that the attributions negotiators make about one another are likely skewed towards character-based as opposed to context-based assumption of one another’s intentions.

Naive Realism: Naive Realism describes the tendency of individuals to believe that their own perspective on a given issue is grounded in the truth and that contradictory perspectives must be due to bias (or biases) inhibiting the other from seeing the truth.4 This bias can have subtle but impactful effects within a negotiation. The bias is manifest in negotiators’ inability to entertain multiple perspectives, which often leads to frustration, a litigious approach communication, and if unchecked, impasse.

Reactance Theory: This theory, “suggests that the attractiveness of options that are in danger of being lost will increase, while the attractiveness of options thrust upon someone by external circumstance or by another individual will decrease.”5 This psychological phenomenon can bias negotiators against offers or concessions positioned by the other side because the offers or concessions represent the limitation of available options.

Cognitive Dissonance: “Dissonance theory states that individuals are motivated to reduce any psychological incongruity or discrepancy that may exist among their various cognitions, including cognitions about their own behavior and the context in which it occurs. In particular, the theory argues that the exercise of choice among available options creates dissonance, because making choices obliges the individual to accept unattractive features of the elected option and/or to forfeit attractive features of the rejected option.”6 It is the dissonance arising from the exercise of choice that makes this theory so relevant to negotiation. As a concession represents a possible choice, typically with attractive and unattractive attributes, the necessity of making choices in the negotiation process incites dissonance related distortions in the decision making process.

Loss Aversion: This theory describes, “the fact that the aversiveness of a given loss tends to be greater than the attractiveness of a gain of the same objective magnitude.”7 This bias highlights the difficulty associated with common communication strategy utilized in negotiations – framing concessions in the form of trades. That is offering something like, “I will reduce my demand to $1,000,000.00 if you will increase your offer to $500,000.00.” This framing incited loss aversion in the mind of the offer’s recipient thus making agreement much more difficult.

Understanding and recognizing psychological biases in a negotiation will make your attempt to reach agreement much easier as possessing insight into the real-time, psychological disposition of the other side will provide direction into how to best engage and communicate with your counterpart.



  1. Archie Zariski, “A Theory Matrix for Mediators,” Negotiation Journal (April 2010)
  2. Deepak Malhotra and Jeremy Ginges, “Beyond Reactive Devaluation: Implementation Concerns and Fixed-pie Perceptions Involving the Geneva Accords” (paper presented at the 18th Annual Conference of the International Association for Conflict Management, Seville, Spain, June 12-15, 2005)
  3. Lee Ross, “The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process,” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Vol. 10, (New York: Academic Press, 1977)
  4. Daniel Lin, Emily Pronin and Lee Ross, “The Bias Blind Spot: Perceptions of Bias in Self Versus Others,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2002)
  5. Jared Curhan, Margaret Neale and Lee Ross, “Dynamic valuation: Preference changes in the context of face-to-face negotiation,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 40 (2004)
  6. Jared Curhan, Margaret Neale and Lee Ross, “Dynamic valuation: Preference changes in the context of face-to-face negotiation,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 40 (2004)
  7. Lee Ross, Barriers to Conflict Resolution, Chapter 2, Reactive Devaluation in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995)

White Paper on Conflict in Healthcare Organizations

I am pleased to present a white paper I have written on conflict within healthcare organizations. The paper is titled, “Effectively Addressing Conflict within Healthcare Organizations,” and it examines the cost of conflict in the workplace, the unique costs and risk of conflict in healthcare organizations, and how to manage conflict within healthcare settings. To access the paper, please click here.

Rory Sutherland @ TED – Perspective is Everything

Rory Sutherland’s highly entertaining talk is a great reminder of the value of resolving a problem with a perceptual rather than a substantive solution. Through anecdotes ranging from the difference between pensioners and the young unemployed to making the wait for mass transit more bearable, Sutherland explores the power of resolving problems with psychological solutions. The talk is highly informative for negotiators and conflict managers, and it prompts us to remember that when perception is the problem, then perception can be the solution.

Rory Sutherland: Perspective is Everything

The Behavioral Change Stairway Model

Behavioral Change Stairway Model

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Change Stairway Model (BCSM) is a staple of the high-stakes world of crisis negotiation. The model’s applicability, however, is not limited to just hostage negotiations and suicide interventions. It is one of my favorite negotiation frameworks because of its diverse suitability to a variety of conflict settings, and it can be a highly useful model for negotiators working in business and organizational settings.1

The model’s intention is to outline a process for developing a relationship between a negotiator and his or her counterpart, which culminates with the negotiator influencing the decisions of the counterpart. The model has five stages that are to be completed in succession for the behavioral change to take place. For example, a negotiator must successfully listen (Stage 1) before he or she can express empathy (Stage 2). A brief description of each stage is below:

  1. Active Listening: The first step of the BCSM establishes the foundation for the ensuing steps and involves a collection of techniques aimed at establishing a relationship between the negotiators. Active Listening encourages conversation through the use of open ended questions, suggests negotiators paraphrase their understanding of the other side’s story, attempts to identify and confirm emotions expressed by the other side, and utilizes intentional pauses in the conversation for emphatic effect
  2. Empathy: The intent of the second step of the BCSM is for the negotiator to convey his or her empathy to the other side. Empathy suggests the negotiator has an understanding of the perceptions and feelings of the other side. This is an important aspect of furthering the relationship between the negotiator and the other side, and can be accomplished through a tone of voice that is genuine and conveys interest in and concern for the other side
  3. Rapport: The third step in the BCSM is established through the negotiator’s active listening and expression of empathy, which will lead to increased trust between the parties. The negotiator continues to build rapport through conversation that focuses on face saving for the other side, positive reframing of the situation, and exploring areas of common ground
  4. Influence: Once rapport has been firmly established, the negotiator is in a position to begin to make suggestions to the other side, explore potential and realistic solutions to the conflict, and consider the likely alternatives available to the other side
  5. Behavioral Change: The final step in the BCSM is contingent upon how thoroughly and prudently the negotiator walked up the first four steps. If the negotiator has established a solid relationship with the other side, he or she will be able to propose solutions to the conflict that will affect the desired behavioral change

The negotiator working to resolve conflicts in a business or organizational conflict will benefit from utilizing the BCSM process. Though the stakes of business negotiations are usually not as high as that of a hostage negotiation, the psychological basis for diffusing conflict are related between the two contexts. The manager who is negotiating with a frustrated employee or client will be well served by walking with his or her counterpart up the “Behavioral Change Stairway.”



  1. Gregory M. Vecchia, Vincent B. Van Hasseltb, and Stephen J. Romanoc, “Crisis (hostage) negotiation: current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution,” Aggression and Violent Behavior 10 (2005)