Cover illustration by @pioldes

Intro to 1-on-1s and the AEIOU structure for conversations

>> Lire cet article en français <<

No matter which changes are necessary to improve working conditions at your workplace, you cannot bring them about on your own, especially if those changes impact the company’s bottom line and threaten investors’ profits. As a lone worker, you don’t have much leverage and are vulnerable to retaliation from employers, but with collective power, a lot more is possible. You can build that power by reaching out to coworkers, discussing your problems, coming up with solutions together, and by ultimately acting collectively in a coordinated and strategic way.

One of the basic methods to establish any kind of solidarity in the workplace is what we call 1-on-1 conversations. They serve multiple purposes:

Doing regular 1-on-1s helps both you and your coworkers. For them, knowing that their situation could change and that they have you on their side will be a considerable source of motivation for future actions, and can reduce feelings of isolation in the workplace. For you, 1-on-1s will be a way to get more insight into what types of problems your coworkers are facing, to plan future actions, and to build trust, which is essential to establishing workplace-wide solidarity.

What is the AEIOU model for?

If you want to make sure that these conversations are effective, multiple models exist to help you structure your 1-on-1s. The AEIOU model is one template for these conversations, commonly used and taught by members of the IWW. This is a simple one to explain, but there are other models we’ll mention later. We aren’t claiming that AEIOU is the ONLY way to structure a conversation, but we do want to draw attention to the fact that organizers have been thinking about how to do effective 1-on-1s for a long time, and it helps to learn from these methods.

AEIOU stands for Agitate/Educate/Inoculate/Organize/Union and describes 5 simple steps to go through to establish trust with a coworker, identify their troubles and begin to work towards a solution.

You don’t need to think of yourself as an organizer to benefit from learning and practicing AEIOU, as occasions to use it during conversations with coworkers are likely to happen anyway, so it’s to your advantage to be prepared. For safety reasons, we also strongly encourage you to hold these conversations face-to-face (or by video chat) and outside work whenever possible.

In the article below, we will detail what the 5 steps of the AEIOU method are, and give examples of how they could turn out in the context of a conversation in a game company. We recommend you to learn these steps and ideally, to practice them!

Agitate

The first step is for your coworker to realize that they have a problem at work, and identify what it is. This conversation could be prompted by them if they decide to complain about something they have on their mind (in which case you want to make sure that you’re prepared to talk about potential solutions, so that the conversation doesn’t end on pure frustration), but you could also gently ask them if everything’s alright at work, and lend an ear to their troubles.

In any case, it’s not up to you to tell them what their problem is, you are only here to listen at this point. More than simply finding out the material side of their issue, you need to figure out the emotional aspect of it: if the hours are too long, what’s the consequence for them, are they tired? If the wages are too low, are they stressed by bills they can’t pay?

Problems that coworkers face aren’t necessarily as awful as a low salary or crunch time, it could be as simple as a broken chair that management refuses to replace, that ends up hurting their back. Just because you might think you have it good at your company doesn’t mean it’s the case for everyone, or that the small issues do not deserve to be addressed.

Remember, during this part, your job is mostly to listen and ask questions, and to be an attentive listener.

Educate

The second part of the conversation consists of admitting that some problems can only be faced together, that we are powerless when we’re alone. You’re still not here to tell your coworkers what to do, you want them to bring up their own solutions, and point out how those could probably be achieved if multiple people fought for them.

If they’re not alone in facing an issue, suddenly it becomes a lot less daunting to imagine trying to change the situation, even if it involves confronting management. For example, if a coworker finds out that they’re not paid as well as their counterpart who does the same job, and that they suspect it’s due to gender-based discrimination, showing that you believe them and would be willing to accompany them to demand a raise could make the situation a lot less scary for them.

Another example could be a worker complaining that they replaced the free coffee machine with a paying one. They could be dissuaded from complaining about this issue alone, but if you express that you also believe the company should pay for the coffee, and that other workers probably think the same way, and that you could ask for this together, suddenly this small problem becomes something you can all tackle.

Inoculate

As soon as you try any collective action at work, management is likely going to retaliate and try all sorts of union-busting tactics. This can include firing or threatening to discipline workers that cause trouble, holding “captive audience” meetings where they try to sow suspicion and distrust about unions or encouraging workers to speak to management privately rather than talking to each other.

Fear of repercussions is the biggest obstacle standing in your way when it comes to organizing, and seeing the reaction of the company’s management to your demands could instantly demotivate any worker who was emboldened to ask for more.

To prepare for this, you need to inoculate, that is to say, prepare your coworkers for the reaction of the bosses. If you’ve come up with a solution or demands for the problems they face and decided you would try to fix this together, now is the time to prepare them to stay grounded when your demands meet resistance. You can also lead this part by asking them questions about what they think could happen. Even if you might bring more of your knowledge here, the goal is to prepare with your coworker as a team, and that means you need to also ask them what they think could happen in the worst-case scenario, and what they think should be done then.

In our zine we wrote for GDC, we mentioned a few of the techniques bosses will use to discourage people from organizing, and nip any attempt at unionizing in the bud. Learn to recognize those methods and use conversations with your colleagues as an opportunity to prepare them, in case you decide to start a collective action. The Union Busting Playbook is another great resource to learn about union-busting stories and how they’ve been countered by workers.

Organize

O and U, the two last letters of the AEIOU mnemonic, vary in interpretation and function as long-term goals for a campaign, as they go beyond the scope of a single 1-on-1 conversation.

Organize means structuring the work that is still to be done, usually by delegating tasks. If you’ve figured out that your demands could use more support, maybe now is a good moment to ask them if they know coworkers who might be willing to help your cause. In which case, you could split the work and give each other a list of coworkers to reach out to.

If you’ve decided to write a formal demand, now is the time to decide who should write it, who should do the research, etc. You shouldn’t take on everything by yourself, remember that the goal of the 1-on-1 is to build solidarity, and you cannot change a workplace by yourself. Do your part and let others do their share of the work, but be ready to offer your help if they get stuck.

Additionally, you should set up a date for another 1-on-1 to catch up on the work you’ve done.

Unionize

Finally, the U in AEIOU usually stands for Unionize or Uplift. It’s here to help you keep track of the long-term goals.

If you’re reading this blog, you might be thinking of unionizing your workplace. Even though the AEIOU structure will be useful to structure conversations with your coworkers, you might sense that some of them aren’t ready yet to discuss the idea of a union, or that the risks are too great.
However, if you and your coworkers manage to start tackling smaller grievances at work, you will most likely already get a taste of what worker solidarity feels like. If you manage to successfully change your workplace through a collective action, your coworkers will have seen first-hand the impacts of collective power. This will also give them a better understanding of how they can benefit from building a union, which is essentially just a group of workers leveraging that collective worker power to make demands and improve their working conditions.

Even if your demands aren’t immediately met, you’ve most likely created a space in which you can directly name your issues at work and think of solutions collectively. In that case, the Uplift interpretation of the U also comes into play: change is hard to get, and people’s motivation might wane after the initial 1-on-1s. They might feel like everything is hopeless. As part of the work of organizing a workplace, it’s important that you help them see the brighter aspects of the situation and the options that are still on the table.

AEIOU is only one example of structure for 1-on-1 conversations, but other models exist, such as:

What all these models have in common is that they seek to channel the discussion from a place of frustration to one of action. We recommend that you practice having these conversations, ideally with a partner or with other members of GWU (we try to hold our own trainings regularly), with one person role-playing as the organizer and the other as their coworker. Try to think of how to start the conversation, the type of questions to ask, and what kinds of answers you could expect from your coworkers.

Whether you decide to set up a 1-on-1 conversation yourself, or if the occasion simply arises, leading conversations this way will be key to winning the changes you want to see at your workplace.

Written by Tom from GWU Montreal with helpful edits from co-members!
🠞 Join Game Workers Unite Montreal

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
GWU Montreal

Game Workers Unite Montréal is a democratic workers’ organization advocating for workers’ rights and supporting union organizing in the games industry.