Nonviolent communication for network administrators

Executive coaches are suggesting there are better ways to resolve difficult conversations within businesses

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For years, those working in IT department have been told they need to work on their “soft skills.” I’m not sure if the term “nonviolent communication” is any better, but at least it suggests what might happen if you approach dialogue with business users the wrong way.

I was introduced to the concept of nonviolent communication via a recent blog post from First Round Review, which is published by a venture capital firm in the United States and which is aimed at entrepreneurs navigating the various challenges of developing a startup company. However it strikes me that many of the elements of nonviolent communication could be equally applied to the specifics of working as a network administrator.

As explained by executive coaches Ann Mehl and Jerry Colonna, nonviolent behavior uses some common-sense principles such as asking open questions (such as “how can I help you finish that unified communications-as-a-service deployment?”) vs. closed ones (such as, “When on earth are you guys going to finish installing that UCaaS thing?”). But the best parts can be remembered as easily as memorizing your vowels: AEIOU.

Standing for Acknowledge, Express, Identify, Outcome, and Understanding, the A-E-I-O-U method can be used to resolve a variety of standoffs . . . No matter how old your company is or how it’s structured, employees should always feel comfortable approaching managers and communicating on a level playing field. The other rule is that finding a solution to the problem at hand is the highest goal. To do that, you must separate the person you’re in conflict with from that problem.

Here are some examples of how network admins could use nonviolent communication and AEIOU:

Acknowledge: “I understand that there’s an urgency to find the right technology to meet our business goals.”

Express: “I really like some of the ideas you and some of the other departments have put forward, but I think we need to think of the long-term impacts of what we deploy for these purposes.”

Identify: “I want us to have the best telecommunications experience possible for everyone involved. I’m suggesting SIP trunking because I think it can help us serve our branch offices but also lower our costs and prep us for future needs we might have with unified communications.”

Outcome: “If you give me the go-ahead to use this, I think you’ll get what you want and you’ll help me make sure I’m sourcing the right kind of technology to support the business. I’d be really grateful.”

Understanding: “What about starting with a small pilot project and I can report on the initial results?”

I realize some of the phrasing here can sound a bit stilted and formal, but nonviolent communication is about being deliberate and thoughtful about how a conversation unfolds. The full blog post on First Round Review provides a lot more detail about assessing the nuances around these sometimes-uncomfortable situations, but why not at least give AEIOU a try the next time a technology standoff erupts? No matter how violent and contentious the debates can be, creating a more collaborative means of achieving success is worth fighting for.

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at

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