The Object Principle – How we disagree well, together

object BOOK COVER2
So, you’re having a conversation with your boss and he or she says something that you don’t agree with. You voice your dissent and your boss tells you to “Shut the f#*k! up!” as they remind you who’s the boss, in front your fellow staff members. What do you do?

It’s the times that we disagree that we are the more likely to experience anger, from both ourselves and others. Pretty obvious, right?

Rather than focusing directly on anger, this presentation will look more at how we got there. That is, looking at the cause; dissent and disagreement, rather than the symptom, which we believe is anger.

If disagreeing  with superiors, without fear of retribution, is a critical issue that every innovative organisation faces, then creating a safe environment that not only tackles this problem but actively encourages dissent, is the holy grail, we believe.

Creating a Safe Environment to Disagree

“We believe that thoughtful, unemotional disagreement by independent thinkers can be converted into believability-weighted decision making, that is smarter and more effective than the sum of its parts.”  Principles by Ray Dalio.

Ray Dalio’s use of “unemotional disagreement” for making smarter decisions is commendable, but what happens to the 99% of us who usually experience, on some level, “emotional disagreement”? For such occasions we are proposing the use of The Object Principle and believe it starts with a safe and regulated environment. Firstly, to create such an environment, we believe that it needs to be lead from the top down, and before the company is really formed. Executives, founders and investors are going to have to make a number of strategic agreements to support our proposal that encourages such open dissent.

Disagree Vs Object

To “Disagree” is basically not agreeing with how the other person has interpreted the facts or data. To “Object” however, is about disagreeing with how the other behaves while delivering their interpretation. This idea of splitting a dispute into the two components,  interpreting data and delivering this interpretation, is crucial in understanding a disagreement, as we will see later, and is the secret sauce for our Object Principle.

Disagree

Fundamentally we all have biases, so working out what is true and what is not is always going to be a difficult proposition. “Calling out” someone’s bias is also difficult because it could be that our view is the biased one. Therefore, we propose that everyone in the organisation recognizes this and agrees to simply state that we “don’t agree” or “disagree” using our agreed-to regulators (see Regulators & Jargon), rather than pointing out that the other person is wrong or accusing them of being biased. Prefacing our arguments with “I think” or “in my view” goes a long way to remind us all that these are just our opinions or interpretations of the data rather than being the absolute factual data, which ultimately may never actually exist.

Object

During this disclosure of our dissent it is possible or even likely that it is not always going to be received well. As in our example in the introduction, the response to our dissent could even be quite hostile. At this point the person disagreeing can simply object to the bosses behavior, in real-time, on the grounds that it did not conform to our agreed-to regulators (see Regulators & Jargon). Anger and the resultant abuse being a dead giveaway, in this instance.

Complain

Complaining is sort of a combination of objecting and disagreeing, only instead of being in real-time and direct it is usually after the fact and indirect and usually has a degree of anger resentment and abuse associated with it. We consider this is the poor man’s objection and usually results in malicious gossiping within the organisation.

Regulators & Jargon

Ali = Disagreeing “Well”: not getting Angry, lie or ignore.

Regulators: DECARRT are our agreed-to regulators
Daring, Enjoyable, Considered, Accountable, Responsible, Reasonable, Transparent

DTOUR: is the name we give for activating an objection for bad behavior.
DTOUR stands for Dare To Object Using Regulators and one is required to object or disagree within the bounds of these regulators.

Acceptable Apology: Where the receiver has the option to simply accept or reject the apology on what ever grounds. Consists of
1. What I did
2. Why I did it
3. What I will do next time

Put It All Together

So, back to our initial question, what do we do when our boss tells us to shut the f up?Imagine we had our agreements in place, within our organisation, to encourage dissent, this is how it would proceed. Instead of getting (Ali) Angry, or lying to oneself by obsequiously laughing it of or becoming subservient by ignoring it, we can simply object to the boss’s behavior. A simple, unemotional statement of “I object” should be sufficient to to let your boss know that a DTOUR Objection has been called. Your boss can then choose to inquire why there is an objection and has a choice to acknowledge your objection, which was on the grounds that his or her reaction to your dissent was not according to our DECARRT regulators (emotional and rude). If the boss can admit the error then a simple apology would suffice to continue the discussion. However if your boss did not think your objection was sustainable, maybe believing you deserved such abuse and overruled it, we would then have an impasse.

Resolve an Impasse

At this point we would suggest postponing the original discussion until the impasse is resolved. Part of the Object Principle requires the objector to try resolve the issue with your boss on a one-on-one basis. If unsuccessful the objector can bring a witness or two to establish the issue. If successful, at this stage the boss would be required to give a more Acceptable Apology (see Regulators & Jargon). Or, if still unresolved, the objector can bring the boss before the organisation’s team of peers. If still unresolved the peers can decide if the boss had acted outside our regulators and ultimately decide their fate, with the power to remove the boss from their position. One would hope we would never need such drastic action but such assigned powers are part of our Object Principle.

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