Aria Group

Dispute Systems Design (ACCESS)

Got conflict?

Of course you do, we all do.

Can you imagine conflict being a doorway into constructive change?

Have you ever looked back at conflicts and seen how they helped you and your team grow?

With the ARIA Creative Conflict Engagement Systems (ACCESS), you’ll discover how to collaboratively engage conflict in creative ways to build a conflict-positive organizational culture.

What does it mean to be conflict-positive?

In a conflict-positive culture, the creative potential of conflict can emerge and is purposefully used to strengthen organizational processes and relationships. People no longer respond to conflict with flight or fight. Instead, they are equipped to engage with conflict in a proactive and productive way.  


  1. Tailored approach

ACCESS is implemented and adapted with active input from all leadership and staff, creating a “right-fit” organizational system people feel ownership over.

  1. Sustainable process

Because ACCESS system is embedded into the organization at a cultural level, it doesn’t fade away over time. Rather, it becomes stronger as people to use it, become increasingly comfortable with it and develop trust in the process.

  1. Accessible and structured for safety

The core of ACCESS is an “ARIA Meeting” (AM) which follows a simple process of reflective listening and joint problem definition that anyone can learn. AMs help address issues before they get big.

  1. Prioritizing the why

The ARIA Meeting gives team members a chance to express why the issue at hand matters to them, why they care so deeply about it. This lays the groundwork for mutual understanding and empathy.

  1. Values-based

ARIA meetings are rooted in organizational values, through which staff can clarify and reset disrupted expectations


ACCESS Benefits:

  • Build a “conflict positive” culture in your organization where conflicts become opportunities for learning and improved relationships.
  • Keep conflicts small by training all team members to proactively deal with them before they become larger issues or lead to crisis.
  • Increase staff engagement and reduce turnover by providing new tools for communicating effectively about differences and disagreements.
  • Reduce hostility, increase trust and understanding and strengthen relationships across your organization.

To incorporate the model into your company, we go through the following steps:

  • Assess the organization’s values and associated behaviors.
  • Conduct a survey with all staff on conflict and cooperation dynamics.
  • Adapt the model for your organization’s culture and language.
  • Pilot the use of the model with the leadership team.
  • Train staff to use the model.
  • Implement ACCESS and monitor and evaluate for continuous improvement.


Weather Tight in Milwaukee adapted ACCESS into a “Reconciliation Meeting” method and has been successfully using it for three decades. President Tod Colbert has described it as “the secret sauce” of the company:

“The ACCESS system gives people a safe way to get to the core of their issues and to be straightforward and direct and respectful with one another so that they can resolve the real issue they have with each other one-on-one, person to person. Over the years, it’s been woven into the fabric of our company. It’s a big piece of our culture, of who we are as a company. It has created a more stable work environment. I think that it’s reduced turnover. I think that it’s helpful in hiring, attracting like-minded people that like the idea of a proactive way of dealing with conflicts when they are small and manageable. And I know that it’s also been integral in our leadership team’s success.”

You can learn more about Weather Tight’s implementation of ACCESS here.

“ACCESS gave us new ways of talking about organizational conflict. It was helpful to articulate our company’s values and use them as a basis for comparison to real situations and a foundation for building future plans. The system provides a framework to ask for help with situations that are layered and complex. It aided in getting me and my co-owner aligned and cooperating again.”

-Corrie Van Ausdal, co-owner of Black Cap Electric Inc.

“Simply by having a process and making everyone aware that we recognize the existence of occasional conflict, has in itself already reduced anxieties over working with our peers.”

-Arick Mittler, Director of operations and co-owner, Black Cap Electric Inc.

“The ARIA group began working with us through an educational session regarding conflict management for our leadership group made up of the Board of trustees, Medical Staff leadership, and Executive leadership team. This was targeted at establishing a culture where conflict is viewed as an opportunity to improve current performance. We followed this up with training for the department directors within the hospital and leaders of other parts of our healthcare system (Greene Oaks nursing home, MSA physician group practice, and Women’s Recovery Center chemical dependency treatment center). The ARIA group then assisted us with training on how to respond to situations involving conflict, training employees to work through conflicts constructively, etc.

Probably the biggest help was in giving staff tools to recognize what their preconceived attitudes towards conflict are and tools to use to engage conflict whether the other party is interested in resolving the conflict or not. There were several situations where the use of these processes helped staff to resolve long-standing differences. There were also certainly situations where engaging conflicts with these processes improved the work environment for staff. In some instances we know that these processes prevented staff turnover and therefore to cost of staff replacement. It is a great improvement to be able to feel that you have some control over your work environment and conflicts that may come up, rather than the typical “fight or flight” response that comes naturally to most of us.

We certainly would not claim to have conquered all conflict issues that we face, but I would say that in general our staff views conflict more as a positive opportunity to make things better, rather than a negative situation to be avoided. It’s not necessarily that conflicts have gone away, but that we are better able to deal with them with a set of practical tools.”

-Michael Stephens, CEO, Greene Memorial Hospital in Xenia, Ohio

“The ARIA framework works at many levels. It is a wonderful metaphor for the phases of constructive conflict resolution that has applications in so many fields. It is the analytic melody that connects the phases through the example of a string quartet, and it captures how creative conflict resolution is like a beautiful song when expertly executed. In all its forms, I have incorporated ARIA into my teaching and practice.”

-Deborah M. Kolb, professor of negotiation and conflict resolution, Simmons College: senior fellow, Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School