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In this episode I’d like to share a phenomenal tool, that I had the opportunity to use at AirHelp and some other places. I find it useful in a lot of areas; it doesn’t require any expenses, installation work or hardware – yet it can change your life. The tool I’m talking about is FUEL. The spelling might suggest diesel or gasoline, but it’s an acronym that I’m going to explain a minute.

I think the human life hardly ever needs to be outlined or follow fixed action patterns. In most cases, when we decide to follow a fixed procedure, say, in our everyday communication, it is perceived as something very unnatural or overly formal, associated rather with corporations, heavy industry, science, academic circles – anywhere where following procedures and going by the book is more common.

Such were my thoughts when I first encountered the FUEL procedure. I was introduced to it as an AirHelp management member at a 2-day workshop I attended in our New York office, given by Jason Gore and Michael Costurosa of Neuberg, Gore & Associates. Even though I knew they are wise people, Harvard lecturers, I remained sceptical about the form of conversation offered by FUEL until I saw how it actually works. Since that moment, a lot has changed in the management team at AirHelp. Among other things, this tool helped us talk in a totally different way, improve our communication skills and solve lots of problems that were earlier swept under the carpet or solved while generating huge amounts of negative energy.

Surely, it is never enough just to have a read about FUEL or listen to this podcast to get the knack of it. To feel it, you must practise, give it a try, overcome the first impression of artificiality. In order to help you appreciate it, I’d like to make you a bit more familiar with it, so that you, hopefully, get to like it enough to study it in greater depth. As part of a workshop, I am ready to provide you with a more practical side of this procedure. Today, however, I’d like you to focus on understanding the idea behind it, because it may turn out that your lives, just like mine, will undergo a deep positive change.

So, what is FUEL? The acronym stands for Framing, Understanding, Exploring and Leading – 4 stages of a conversation. Framing the conversation means defining its scope, subjecting it to the goal of the meeting so the parties know where they stand and what the topic of the conversation is. It’s called “Name the elephant in the room” – define clearly what the challenge or the reason why we are meeting. It not only helps define the common intention that has brought us together, but also return to the initial intent of the meeting. Especially when the meeting talks get quite vigorous, it’s not that easy to maintain its purpose – and this can be achieved using Framing. Owing to Framing, parties can return to the original issue before the discussion diverges or dissipates.

The second stage of FUEL is “Understanding each other”. The viewpoints in a conversation usually differ; there are at least two, unless it’s a a monologue or a lecture. In “Understanding each other”, the emphasis is put on “each other”. For our part, we understand our own opinions, our assumptions, our perspective on the world. The point here is to comprehend the other person’s world, because only if we reach a deeper understanding of how a problem, a challenge, is perceived by the other person, we can arrive at a mutually satisfying solution. So, the focus is on understanding our interlocutor, not on trying to present our views. The more the parties both insist on understanding each other, the higher the chances of effective listening and being listened to.

Letter E in FUEL stands for “Exploring options”, that is, jointly considering a range of options to solve the problem. Again, the stress here is on considering, not imposing options. Instead of saying “Well, in that case, let’s do this and that”, it’s asking “What would you say if we were able to solve the issue in such a way?”. Instead of forcing our solutions, we are ready to consider our partner’s counterarguments, humbly trying to understand them more thoroughly, trying to paraphrase, redefine the challenge. If we take shortcuts here and exert pressure, the other person is very likely to feel overwhelmed and withdraw. Worse still,  a manager – subordinate relation only aggravates this reaction of withdrawal and disengagement. So – Exploring is about analysing alternatives together.

Finally, to summarize the meeting and make the most of it, there’s that last component – “Leading to commitments”. Here, both parties should work towards making clear commitments as to the result and the actions following the result of their discussion. It’s important to make sure precisely who is supposed to do what and when. These details should be written down in a form of a meeting memo, approved of by all the parties. In AirHelp, we even went as far as agreeing that if a post-meeting commitment hasn’t been written down, it is treated as a soft commitment, something the parties would welcome if it happened, but no-one has been assigned with any action or deadline. Thus, it is important that commitments are written down, particularly that the written form leads to a fuller understanding and certainty of what has been agreed on.

If you are interested in downloading a file with a step-by-step explanation of how to proceed through all the 4 stages of FUEL (Framing, Understanding, Exploring and Leading to commitments), there is an article on FUEL with a link to download all materials.

Before I finish this podcast on the FUEL procedure, I’d like to share a few comments to help you visualize when FUEL can be used. First of all, it is useful in solving a wide range of problems, usually within organizations, when two conflicted parties must sit and talk.

Moreover, it can be used in taking group decisions. Sometimes, especially in the “turquoise” organizations, less hierarchical, democratized, this joint decision-making is practised, but there are no good tools to organize the process.

Also, it comes handy in conflict solving and negotiations. Interestingly, not all the parties of a debate need to be aware of the method that is actually being used, to make it work. Therefore, we can use FUEL negotiating with our contractors, practically leading them through all four stages of the process without them realizing it. This is in no way a manipulation, it’s just a way to carry out a discussion.

Besides, FUEL can be of service in settlements of tasks. Furthermore, it can help relieve tensions, explain teamwork issues, resolve personal conflicts and rebuild trust in teams.

Lastly, perhaps not the most enjoyably, FUEL can be used to dismiss employees. It helps an honest presentation of the complete picture of why we have to terminate the contract. Regarding this topic, I once wrote a short article, “Managing People Out”, on handling potential job termination issues. I’m also going to record a separate podcast on the subject as this knowledge is interesting, important and indispensable, in the context of the human face of business.

This is all about FUEL for today. Let me just remind that it’s one of the most efficient and powerful tools that I had a chance to learn about at AirHelp and that I had the ample opportunity to use at a number of companies, during various projects. I encourage you to practise using this tool, learn about its applications and secrets. If you happen to like it, pass it on, share it. If you have any further questions, I strongly encourage you to take part in the debate here, as part of this podcast or elsewhere in the social media.

Thank you and see

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