Gordon Training or Gordon Model

Win-Win (Pixabay: © geralt)

Even today, many relationships fail because communication and conflict resolution do not work. Many guides for better relationships, especially on how to interact constructively and non-violently with each other, have now become established. Most of them are based on a decades-old classic that has lost none of its validity today: the Gordon Training.

Table of Contents

  1. Definition
  2. Application
  3. Origin
  4. Goal
  5. Methods
  6. Communication Barriers
  7. The Six Steps of Problem Solving
  8. Relationship Credo
  9. Literature Recommendations

Definition of Gordon Training

Gordon Training or the Gordon Model is a form of communication that creates a foundation of mutual appreciation and is used for peaceful conflict resolution. It is based on the approaches of Client-Centered Gestalt Therapy by Carl Rogers and belongs to humanistic psychology. In special trainings, communication and conflict partners are trained to find solutions together where there is no defeat. Since the 1970s, Gordon Training has been a classic in nonviolent conflict resolution. Many moderation and mediation methods draw on it.

Application of Gordon Training

Although Thomas Gordon initially developed or described his training concept for families, the training concept can be applied to almost all areas where people live and work together. It can generally be regarded as solution-oriented relationship management. It is used in

  • Families
  • Relationships / Partnerships
  • Businesses
  • Schools
  • Medical practices, hospitals
  • Teams and groups
  • Management and more.

Origin of the Gordon Model

The Gordon Model or Gordon Training was named after its developer Thomas Gordon (1918 – 2002). Gordon was a US-American psychologist who was trained as a psychotherapist by Carl Rogers. Initially, he worked as a staff member at the psychological counseling center at the university and then had his own practice in Pasadena, California. He offered individual counseling for adults and play therapy for children. Many parents brought their children to therapy because they thought there was something wrong with them . However, Gordon discovered that the children behaved completely normally and healthily. At the same time, he noticed that parents were usually blamed when there were conflicts or difficulties with the children. From his observation, both parents and children were perfectly fine, coping with life, and did not need psychotherapy. Instead of blaming the parents, he believed it was more useful to train them in conversation and conflict resolution.

The idea came to him when he taught a leadership course at the University of California. He realized that the conflicts in management were similar to those in a family. So he developed the Gordon Family Training. Through his work, he realized how important communication – especially respectful and non-violent communication – is among each other. Even in conflicts, his goal was to peacefully reach a result where all participants come out as winners. He presented his method for the first time in his book "Parent Effectiveness Training". It contains concrete instructions for conversation management and successful communication within a family. Moreover, this model was not only effective in families but also applicable to many other situations where people work together and need to manage conflicts. Thus, he expanded the basics accordingly and published books such as "Teacher-Student Conference", "Relationship Conference", "Manager Conference", and "Patient Conference". In all works, his focus was on a partnership and concrete instructions for implementation.

Goal of Gordon Training

The focus of Gordon Training is to improve communication between conversation partners and enable them to find common solutions. Gordon observed that in ineffective or non-supportive forms of communication, certain patterns are used, which he refers to as communication barriers. These inhibit a solution-oriented progress of the conversation. In contrast, he presents beneficial aspects in communication. These lead to positive results where each conversation partner is perceived and appreciated with their needs.

Methods of Gordon Training

Listening Techniques

Listening (iStock: © Andrey Popov)

An important aspect of successful communication is attentive listening and giving attention to the other person. Gordon distinguishes four types of listening:

  • Passive Listening / Silence: By remaining silent in a conversation, we allow the other person to speak and finish their thoughts. We listen without interrupting or talking about ourselves. However, since few people are used to someone just silently listening, passive listening can also lead to irritations if there is no response from the listener for a long time: "Are you even listening to me?"
  • Attention: Therefore, passive listening can be supported with appropriate signals of attention: nodding, leaning forward, smiling. In addition, agreeing short comments like "Hmm," "Ah, I see," "I understand" can be helpful. This signals interest and that one is still listening.
  • Openers and Invitations: Sometimes someone needs an invitation to speak. These can be sentences like "Would you like to tell me about it?" "I'm interested in what you think about it."
  • Active Listening: This is the most important type of listening. It requires empathy (understanding the other person's feelings). In every communication, there is a sender (speaker) and a receiver (listener). It may happen that the speaker's statement is misinterpreted or misunderstood by the listener. To prevent this, with Active Listening, feedback is given on what the listener understood. Thus, what was said is paraphrased in one's own words.

Example: The child is hungry and says, "When is lunch?" The mother can now interpret that the child is hungry. However, she can also assume that the child wants to eat quickly because it wants to go out to play with friends as soon as possible. Active listening and an appropriate follow-up question bring clarity in this case: "You want to finish quickly to go out and play?" – "No, I'm really hungry!." In this way, the original need of the conversation partner is questioned if it is not immediately apparent. Active listening is also referred to as empathetic listening because it attempts to sensitively decipher what is going on with the other person.

I-Messages instead of You-Messages

I-messages are clear statements about how the sender currently feels or what is important to them. They contain a message about oneself. Therefore, they are not threatening to the listener, they do not contain judgment, blame, or commands. They can include statements about one's own feelings: "I'm too tired now to play table tennis with you." or "if-then statements" that can have possible consequences of the other person's behavior: "If you put the glass so close to the edge of the table, it could fall and break. Then I have to clean up the shards, and I don't like that." I-messages thus focus on one's own feelings rather than on the conversation partner.

Therefore, for example, these are not I-messages: "I think you could try a little harder." Or "If you continue like this, you will realize that your behavior will lead to trouble." They contain judgments and assessments of the other person and would provoke resistance from the other.

Switching / Gear Change

This refers to switching from I-messages to Active Listening. The gear change is used when I-messages lead to resistance from the conversation partner. Usually, I-messages create cooperation from the other person. Sometimes, however, the conversation partners are overwhelmed by the statement of an I-message. Further positive I-messages would then not help. In this case, the gear change symbolizes putting the car in reverse gear instead of continuing forward. While an I-message makes a statement about the needs of the sender/speaker, Active Listening redirects the focus back to the needs of the partner.

Example: Father with I-message: "I'm upset that your clothes are still in the washing machine. If they stay there any longer, they'll start to smell. And by now, no one can use the machine." – Son: "I stayed up late last night working on my project, so I didn't go to bed until 2 a.m." – Father switches to Active Listening: "You were just too tired to hang up the laundry..." – Son: "Yeah, I'll rinse the laundry again quickly and hang it up right after, okay?"

No-Lose Method

In this conflict resolution model, none of the conflicting parties triumphs at the expense of the other. It includes a Six-Step Method for creatively solving conflicts (by John Dewey). This form of conflict resolution is considered a win-win solution.

Communication Blocks according to Gordon

There are a number of (verbal) reactions that cause the conversation partner to fall silent or protest. In any case, they do not feel understood, and the door to them can quickly be closed. These so-called communication blocks prevent real closeness. They are often attempts to help the other person or give them tips (positive intent) or to admonish, moralize, or instruct them. This tries to influence the conversation partner and change their experience/reaction instead of accepting it as it is at the moment.

The twelve communication blocks according to Gordon are

  • Ordering, commanding, dictating
  • Warning, admonishing, threatening
  • Persuading, moralizing, preaching
  • Advising, providing solutions, making suggestions
  • Reproaching, lecturing, presenting logical arguments
  • Judging, criticizing, contradicting, blaming
  • Praising, agreeing
  • Insulting, ridiculing, shaming
  • Interpreting, analyzing, diagnosing
  • Calming, commiserating, comforting, supporting
  • Investigating, questioning, interrogating
  • Withdrawing, distracting, cheering up, diverting

Exercise: Why not try an experiment: Write down a few typical sentences that your children, your partner, your colleagues, or your employees often come to you with. And then note what your typical reaction to them usually is. Then try to assign this reaction to one of the communication blocks mentioned above. Do you discover patterns? Do you have preferred ways of reacting?

Many of the communication blocks mentioned may initially seem legitimate and sensible. According to Gordon's observation, in addition to well-intentioned attempts at comfort or good advice, distraction maneuvers, etc., other messages can also be received by the recipient. These messages can, for example, say: "You can't stand that I'm just like this right now." "You don't trust me to handle it." "You feel it's my fault." "You consider me incapable of finding a solution myself." etc.

The Six Steps of Problem Solving

Thomas Gordon used these six steps of problem-solving for conflict resolution. This method goes back to John Dewey. Dewey was a philosopher and educator who, at the beginning of the 20th century, dealt with how people solve problems. He repeatedly noticed a similar type of problem-solving strategy, regardless of the problem at hand. He suspected that this process is a natural one that does not need to be learned separately or is discovered so early in life that it appears natural to us. In this process, the needs of all parties involved are satisfied, making it a "No-Lose Method." Gordon then defined conflicts as "problems" and chose the six-step problem-solving process for conflict resolution. It can also simply be referred to as a win-win solution.

Step 1: Identification and Definition of the Problem

The problem is defined based on unmet needs. Example: Both spouses need the car in the evening. First, it is questioned what need is behind it. He needs to go to the airport, and she has a business appointment. In this case, the car is not the goal but a solution to be able to meet the underlying needs (airport/business appointment). However, other solutions are also conceivable, even without a car.

Step 2: Developing Alternative Solutions

Once the needs are identified, a brainstorming session is conducted for as many solution ideas as possible. What are the options for getting to the airport? How can I attend the business appointment on time and return home safely at night? Everything is noted without judgment or evaluation.

Step 3: Evaluation of Alternative Solutions

At this point, evaluations are made. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this version? What are the advantages or disadvantages of that version? If a solution is not viable because everyone is against it or it has too many disadvantages, it is discarded. Once only one or a few solutions remain, the process continues.

Step 4: Making Decisions

Now a decision is made. There is no voting because in a vote there are potential losers. The decision does not have to be optimal for everyone, but at least the decision should be made to attempt and try out this alternative. If nothing leads to a decision, either the problem/needs must be more precisely defined in step one, or alternatives must be searched for again in step two.

Step 5: Implementing the Decision

Now the implementation is planned, and tasks are assigned. It's like a contract that is made together. At this point, there are no more discussions; instead, actions are taken as agreed upon.

Step 6: Later Review

For some solutions, it is clear that they have worked, and they do not need to be reevaluated later. For more complex conflicts or problems, it makes sense to review and evaluate the solution after some time. Did it work? What didn't work? What needs to be done differently? In this case, it is not the team/family/couple that failed, but only the solution.

Relationship Credo

In his relationship credo, Thomas Gordon outlines his beliefs for successful relationships. These include the following aspects:

  • We are in a relationship that matters to me and that I want to maintain.
  • Everyone is an individual with their needs and the right to ensure their satisfaction.
  • When there are problems, I listen sincerely and help you find your own solutions.
  • You have the right to choose your own beliefs, and I will respect that.
  • I will openly tell you if your behavior affects my needs and what bothers me.
  • I trust that you will try to change your behavior.
  • You can openly tell me what bothers you about my behavior if I behave unacceptably.
  • We try to resolve conflicts so that no one wants to win at the expense of the other.
  • We respect each other's right to satisfy their needs and respect our own needs.
  • Let's find solutions that are acceptable to both of us.

This way, we can have a healthy relationship.

Regarding Application Areas and Literature Recommendations:

Gordon remains true to his credo and approach - this is also reflected in his books. However, it is not just a rehash of the same concept; it is very specifically tailored to the respective target group, with appropriate examples and typical situations. So, in the teacher-student conference, there are many concrete topics from everyday school life, and in the manager conference, typical examples from everyday leadership. He offers a very practical transfer of his method to the respective application areas. Even the different versions of the "Family Conference" are not a reissue but contain different emphases, additions, and content.

Family Conference: Resolving Conflicts Between Parents and Children

384 pages, Heyne Verlag (February 12, 2012)
ASIN 3453602323

Thomas Gordon


Family Conference in Practice: How to Resolve Conflicts with Children

384 pages, Heyne Verlag (January 9, 2012)
ASIN 345360234X

Thomas Gordon


The New Family Conference: Raising Children Without Punishment

352 pages, Heyne Verlag (September 8, 2014)
ISBN 3453602331

Thomas Gordon


Teacher-Student Conference: How to Resolve Conflicts in School

352 pages, Heyne Verlag (April 1, 1989)
ISBN 3453029933

Thomas Gordon


Manager Conference: Effective Leadership Training

320 pages, Heyne Verlag; Edition: Updated Reissue (February 1, 2005)
ASIN 3453600002

Thomas Gordon


Good Relationships: How They Develop and Grow Stronger

156 pages, Klett-Cotta; Edition: 5th Printing (November 10, 2017)
ASIN 3608962727

Thomas Gordon, Karlpeter Breuer


The New Relationship Conference

144 pages, Heyne (2002)
ISBN 3453861302

Thomas Gordon


Patient Conference: Doctors and Patients as Partners

320 pages, Hoffmann und Campe (February 1997)
ISBN 3455111963

Thomas Gordon, W Sterling Edwards


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