Flock You!

One principle with 3 simple rules to keep the flock together but never clash.

Imagine if we humans could devise a simple principle with 3 simple rules to allow us to work at our optimum together and yet not clash, crash or have overheated interactions together, even if we vehemently disagree. When you watch this video you will see how these starlings do it in flight.
Their 3 rules, as proposed by the researchers, are how one starling interacts with her 7 closest neighbours:

  1. As one flies steer towards each other of the 7
  2. If one of the 7 birds turn then the one turns
  3. Finally don’t crowd each other.

Now let’s see if we can apply a similar principle to people, to allow us to explore any topic and stay calm even if we disagree. My three-rule proposal is based on firstly splitting our conversation into two components, the Object and the Subject. The Object is the topic that we are talking about and the Subject is about us and how we deliver the Object. At any point we can step outside the Object and make the Subject the Object if we in fact have an objection to how the Subject delivered the Object or topic. This mental gymnastics has its benefits as we will see later. The three rules are for how we make such objections.
The first objections is just a caution and can be delivered as simply as “I call caution” and state the grounds.
The second is an official objection ” I object” with stated grounds.
And the third is “Stop” or three strikes and we’re out.

  1. Caution
  2. Objection
  3. Stop

At each step we agree to how the receiver to the objections should respond.
A simple acknowledgment and retraction for the Caution.
A more formal apology for an Objection
And an acceptable apology if the conversation had to stop due to the contempt for rules 1 and 2.

If the conversation cannot be restored due to the Stop call then a third party and eventually our peers can be involved to assist. It is quite possible that, like the 3 rules used by flocking of birds, we may only need to get such agreements with just 7 people in the organisation and the system could work.

Worth a try to see.

Objecting Vs Disagreeing

Objecting and disagreeing are very common and simple concepts it seems, but ask yourself to define the difference between the two and I think you will find it quite difficult.

It is only recently that I have been able to succinctly separate them and indeed, I believe, such knowledge and application will create a phase transition or paradigm shift in how we relate.

Now I know you will say “of course” when you read my definition but please know that you did not know to apply this principle in your daily conversation, and really, that is the true measure of knowledge ie when it is applied, I believe.

Objecting and disagreeing are used during conversations but more importantly in a dispute during a conversation or discussion. So here is the kicker, we disagree with the content or subject of the conversation and we object to the behavior or how the content is delivered. Again we object to the behavior (objectionable behavior) and we disagree with the content.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that we can now split our conversations or discussions into two parts and have them running in parallel, by identifying the content and the delivery of that content. We can set up agreements on what we will accept and what we will object to when we are participating in a conversation.

Personally, my brother and I have been doing this for some 30 years but I have never been able to explain it as simply as this. We have formed intricate, detailed agreements on how we will deliver information during our conversation. And we have developed a process that allows us to object in an efficient way ie direct and in real-time.

From the giving of a caution such as “careful” or “slowly” to objecting, to stopping the discussion, thereby calling out one’s behavior until it is resolved. Using acknowledgments and apologies to restore a balance in the conversation and ultimately agreeing to use an acceptable apology if one is responsible for a conversation ceasing due to one’s behavior.

This process includes objecting in real-time and direct, rather than complain after the fact and indirectly or gossiping behind our back. But I must emphasize here that we have only been able to do this by getting our agreements on dealing with such behavior, upfront.

Ultimately by forming such agreements we are assigning each other to be responsible for our behavior and anger specifically. Responsible, not by what we say that may have ticked them off but by what we didn’t say that would have helped keep the other cool calm and collected.

So if a conversation or discussion is stopped due to one’s objectionable behavior it is quite likely that both will need to apologise for allowing such behavior to occur and allowing it to get out of control.

Object Dispute Example

Cultural Question by Anon:
So lets say two employees have a disagreement. The team leader and the worker runs through what needs to be done, and its all written up and seemingly agreed to. Then the worker goes in a different direction (different order of things) to what was agreed. The leader isn’t happy because this changed order effects work that he had planned.The leader is thinking of replacing the worker.

How do you think the DECARRT etc would play a role here?

Firstly, I would say don’t throw out the worker with the broken agreement.
Address the agreement not the worker. And if the worker bypassed the agreement deal with that and the how and why it occurred.
It is 10 times easier to replace an agreement than to replace a worker I think.

Through the investigation, I believe, we would find a point where an objection was not stated. Our job would be to find that point and back track.

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.


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.


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.


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.

The DTOUR Principal

My brother and I use the DTOUR Principal for running our business partnership and personal communications.

DTOUR stands for Dare To Object Using Regulators, and we use it to help moderate any disputes during potentially stressful conversations, discussions and negotiations ie. Dare to object in real-time and direct, rather than complain, after the fact and indirectly, ie. back biting and gossiping.

These regulators encourage us to moderate our own and each other’s emotional expression while discussing the issue at hand, reducing the interference from any potentially charged emotions.

The DTOUR occurs when we recognize and acknowledge that someone has dared to object to a perceived deviation from our agreed-to regulators (see below) or taken some offense. While we appreciate the objection, we help to moderate it into a more acceptable format. Then, if the objection is sustained the deviation and or offense can be corrected. This process can continue from all parties, in parallel, while we continue to discuss the issue at hand. If the deviation or offense cannot be resolved then there is a follow up process that can be activated.

The Regulators consist of the acronym DECARRT and we use them to moderate our behavior during conversations, discussions and negotiations:

Daring: Be willing and encouraged to step up and object when we feel someone has deviated from our principles or simply when we feel offended by what someone has said or done..

Enjoyable: Making sure how we object is enjoyable, after all even a roller coaster ride should still be fun.

Considered: Being considered when we object, prefacing our objection, like “I think” or “in my opinion”, or “I feel” rather than speaking in absolutes. Generally being considerate.

Accountable: Being accountable in our objection means that if our objection cannot be sustained then we acknowledge it and move on.

Reasonable: When we object we use evidence based reasoning based upon our seven regulators rather than mere emotive views.

Responsible: Being more formal and prepared in our approach to objecting, like doing it in real-time and direct to the person and once again, basing our objection on our regulators.

Transparent: We are all part of the process of objecting and what we say and do is always open to scrutiny, no matter who it is, even the janitor can object to the CEO’s behavior according to the regulators.

And in fact we have been trialing the DECARRT regulators and the DTOUR principal for the past 4 years and they seem to be producing some interesting results with further understandings and developments of the process as we continue to implement the DTOUR Principle.

A Worrying Trend

The Conversation

What if the sole purpose of conversation was to reduce or assuage our worries? Well that is what I believe is the actual purpose of conversation.

Maybe all mental sickness occurs because we don’t get all that help to ease our worries that we need. Why? Because we haven’t made that agreement explicitly to help each other to ease all our worrying.

But imagine if we explicitly agreed to this principle to use conversation to help ease all our worries, together, then their would be no limit to what we could talk about and when, where, how and why. The only limit would be with WHO we have not made the agreement with.

Having a conversation with whomever we have not gotten such an explicit agreement with could, instead of easing our worries, potentially give us even more. Without such an agreement we are open to the pregnant or ignoring pause we can receive when we try broach difficult subjects that are causing us worries or to be told that we “think too much” or “talk too much” or “you are over thinking it” or “get over it” etc etc. In other words “I am not your camel” to carry your worries, which is what a previous friend would say to me.

There even seems to be a self perpetuating system already in place to prevent us making any such an agreement to help each other ease our worries. Simply by broaching this subject of conversation and asking for the reason or purpose for conversation can cause such consternation, as I have found over the last 30 years. Rarely, if ever have I met someone that has had this conversation before ie the reason for conversation. Strange but true. The one thing that we do more than anything else in our life, converse, and yet no one I have met has been asked this question directly. The playwright Bertolt Brecht said that as soon as something seems the most obvious thing in the world, it means that we have abandoned all attempts to understand it. And this from Wikipedia:
” No generally accepted definition of conversation exists, beyond the fact that a conversation involves at least two people talking together “

Maybe everyone has given up all attempts to understand the actual purpose of conversation and the trend seems to be to resign ourselves to carrying certain burdens that worrying causes us, forever.