A Gordon Model Glossary: Ten Terms and Concepts for an Anytime Refresher

Whether it’s been five weeks or five years since your first journey into unfamiliar terrain where problems can be solved through empathy and the no-lose method, one truth is always universal: we move most comfortably through the four stages of learning with a healthy helping of scaffolding to lean on.

The Gordon Model is no exception.

Here, then, from A to Z (OK, to P) are ten core concepts and terms to help refresh, reinvigorate, and recommit to refining the Gordon Model skills. conflict resolution listening skills

  1. Active Listening: The highly advanced skill of attending to the entirety of what someone else is saying—including verbal content as well as emotional content, which may be contained in body language and/or vocal cues—and being subsequently able to restate the message sender’s meaning in the listener’s own words to the message sender’s satisfaction. In short, the purpose of Active Listening is to understand and accept the other person’s reality and then to let them know you understand and accept it.  This skill can be used in all areas of the Behavior Window (see #3), but especially when “the Other Owns a Problem” and during “Shifting Gears.” (We’ll get to those in a second.)
  2. Appreciative I-Messages:  An expression of self-disclosure with no agenda or purpose other than to convey appreciation, admiration, gratitude, or genuine positive regard for somebody else’s observable behavior, these aren’t quite the same thing as compliments. They strengthen and enhance relationships when they’re used in the No-Problem Area of the Behavior Window. Speaking of which…
  3. Behavior Window: One of the most useful and unique concepts of the Gordon Model, the Behavior Window acknowledges and creates a visual framework for several interrelated truths: (1) We are not, individually, the same person all day, every day; (2) Neither is anybody else; (3) Neither is the environment and its influences on our state of mind. The interplay of our ever-changing circumstances opens and closes our tolerance for different behaviors and creates wider or narrower areas of acceptance for behaviors—thus, a “Behavior Window” in which the same behavior that may constitute “no problem” on Monday may constitute “a problem” on Thursday. (Thankfully, there’s a way to determine who owns the problem, too. See #10.)
  4. Communication Roadblocks: The good, the bad, and the ugly: This “dirty dozen” constitutes a 12-piece place-setting of listener responses that all send one underlying message and undermine human relationships. That message? “I’d like to change you.” Whether it’s through soft means, like buttering up or minimizing, or more directly, through shaming or blaming or threatening, the roadblocks take acceptance off the table from the get-go.
  5. Confrontive I-Messages: I have a problem!  Now what? The first step toward resolving behavior in the “problem” area of the Behavior Window is to acknowledge it. The Gordon Model presents problems to others in a non-blameful way by to keeping the focus on the I-message sender: (1) Describe the unacceptable behavior, (2) explain how the other’s behavior is affecting the sender in concrete, tangible ways, and (3) describe feelings the sender has in response to the effects of the behavior.     
  6. Declarative I-Messages: “I really dislike kale” may be a statement akin to heresy that evokes gasps in the aisles of an organic grocery store, but it would probably earn a few sympathetic guffaws and high-fives elsewhere. It’s also a perfectly formed Declarative I-message—a simple statement that reveals to others your genuine ideas, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, likes, dislikes, reactions, and ways of seeing the world—a key form of self-disclosure. These are used in the No Problem or Increasing Productive Work Time Area of the Behavior Window.
  7. Gear-Shifting: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. A carefully-crafted Confrontive I-Message went over about as well as the Hindenburg, and now the person who was confronted is showing definite signs (verbal and nonverbal) of being hurt, angry, and defensive. Shifting Gears is an essential skill; it’s knowing when to move from sending to listening, and hopefully, that will make progress toward getting a momentarily derailed exchange back into the No Problem Area—or you may find that you need to utilize Method III conflict resolution to get back on track.
  8. Method III: Try as we may, solving conflicts in the workplace tends to default to either Method I (I win, you lose) or Method II (you win, I lose). Even “compromise,” which is often sold as “win-win,” isn’t, really; the act of compromise begins with the presupposition that everybody at the table will give up or lose something. Method III is the Gordon Model of conflict resolution, which begins with a good-faith assumption: “Each of us has needs. Let’s look for a solution together that meets both my needs and your needs, and both of us can win so neither of us will leave a resentful loser.” This is the method used in the “We Own a Problem” Area of the Window.
  9. Preventive I-Messages: Sometimes, we know up front that we will have a need, and we want others to know it ahead of time as well. That’s the time for a Preventive I-Message, which can head off conflict at the pass, long before it has a chance to occur. Direct, clear, and congruent with needs and values, a preventive I-Message has only two parts: A statement of the need and the reason for it. “I’d like to opt out of this year’s office gift exchange and because $50 is outside of my budget.” Or, “I’d like to set up time to talk with you about how we’re doing on the annual goals so far, because I want to feel fully briefed and less anxious.” These are sent while in the No Problem Area, but note, if you see resistance and signals that show the Other is upset—meaning they are now in the “Other Owns a Problem” Area in your Window—you need to Shift Gears to Active Listening so you can get back to the motherland, the No Problem Area.
  10. Problem Ownership: Back to the Behavior Window for one last concept: When there is a problem—that is, when behavior falls into the area of unacceptance in your window—whose is it? (Hint: yours or ours) Who has the responsibility to bring it up? (Yup, you or the other person.) The answer can feel swampy at times, but it’s not. The person who owns the problem is the person experiencing negative thoughts and feelings as a result of the behavior that is preventing the upset person from getting their needs met. Who’s feeling frustrated? Annoyed? Worried? Helpless? Hurt? Sad? Just one person? A Confrontive I-Message is in order. What if we learn that we both own one? Method III is where we’re headed.  Just the Other person owns, meaning it’s in your Area of Acceptance?  Use Active Listening.   


While it can appear deceptively intuitive and “simple” on the surface (especially during the immersive, supportive, and structured experience of L.E.T. Workshops), building a real-world skill set in the Gordon Model is anything but. It’s a matter of maintaining a productive, healthy focus on these tools, skills, concepts, and goals—especially in times of stress, which is when most of us are tempted to backslide into old patterns like avoidance, “helping” others by solving their problems for them, or using power to get what we want.


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