TOP Agreement

After 35 years of contemplating and investigating relationship disputes I have come up with the simplest of solutions to reduce domestic violence, divorce and heated disputes in business and personal relationships. Yes, as grand as this claim is I am claiming that I have a formula proposal that I intend to prove over the next 5 years.

So, what is the TOP Agreement? Well, TOP stand for The Object Proposal and it simply requires us to form an agreement with whomever we want to have productive disagreements with, before we converse and disagree. Where we agree that our discussions, negotiations or debates are moderated equally by each other and we hold each other to account by objecting to any offenses that occur during these conversations.

The agreement

Firstly we need to agree what an “agreement” is and the proposal for that is as follows:
“An idea that we believe to be true, together, for a prescribed time period and depending on the stipulated conditions, at the time.”
In other words an agreement is only as good as the information used to form it at the time and it can be reviewed and renewed at any time after but needs the consent of both parties to agree to any alteration, of course.

The Object Proposal (TOP)

Simply put, TOP is based on baseball’s 3 strikes and we are out or
soccer referee’s whistle, yellow & red cards.
Three levels of Objection and a higher level of accountability for each.
ie.
1. Caution – Acknowledge
2. Object – Simple Apology
3. Stop – Acceptable Apology

During a conversation it will be both parties responsibility to keep track of when they are offended by the other and, in real-time, inform the other person with a Caution. eg “I caution you”. If the offence is acknowledged by the offender, then fine and we continue with the conversation. If not acknowledged and not explained why, then the alleged offence can be escalated by the offended person to an Objection. eg. “I object”. Where a simple apology would now be required. If the alleged offender complies then fine but if not then the offended person can escalate to a Stop where the offender will now be required to give an acceptable apology or explain why they believe the offence is not sustainable and the conversation is ended until the alleged offence is resolved.

As we learn to apply the TOP agreement we can apply any clauses and caveats that may be needed as we go along from what we learn during the process. For example, what we consider is offensive can be book marked. Or if the offence and objection is not sustained and is instead overruled through debate then the objector will need to back down and acknowledge their error instead. In some, if not a lot of offenses are more misunderstandings rather than intentional offences.

Ok….now……let the conversations begin.

We nominate and inform each other what we are offended by and build our relationship around what agreements are reached in this area. Maybe that is what a relationship is for.

Agree How to Agree

How ironic is this. The fact that we make hundreds of agreement with each other and yet we do not have an agreement on what an “agreement” is or means to us. You will be surprised to find out just how much you may differ on what an agreement means to you and the people you are making them with.

Here is how I define an agreement and how remis it has been of me not to ensure that I have not thought of implementing this before, with my brother and business partner of 15 years.

AGREEMENT = “An idea that we believe to be true, together, for a prescribed time and depending on the stipulated conditions, at the time.”

My proposal

Think back to how many times you have thought you had an agreement and expected it to be carried out only to be let down by the timeline or various conditions that had changed?

This fundamental definition will change your life, in my view, especially if you agree with it and get the person that you are agreeing with to agree to it also.

Try it and let me know or let me know if you disagree.

The OBjECT Principle

Having an engagement proposal is crazy without a disengagement proposal….

Who can deny that all conversation is an exchange of some sort or another, from the exchange of pleasantries, “Nice day, isn’t it?” to exchanging of proposals, “If I come back to you will you welcome me and marry me”
The exchange in in the sharing or our thoughts and or ultimate proposals.

So how do we make this exchange fair and equal, where we both gain more than we put in? Well, for exchanging pleasantries we generally use reasonably standard social mores to help as there is not much to be lost and gained. But for grand proposals it is a different matter, where we could lose or gain possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even our life and the lives of our future children could be lost. It is in this area where we are going to need more explicit agreements, in my view, on how we go about both engaging and disengaging with our proposals. This is where the Object Principle comes in.

Vietnamese – Tiếng Việt

Our Proposal

My brother Steve and I have been working on our proposals for newer and improved agreements on our behavior for years now and here is an example of a shared proposal that we have agreed to. I am hoping to apply it within an even more personal relationship such as a marriage someday.

We propose that when we have a conversation that we recognise that all conversations seem to embody an exchange of some sort i.e. from exchanging of pleasantries to exchanging grand proposals, and every level of exchange in between.

Hence, during our exchanges we believe it’s useful for us to have an agreed process, protocol or principle – that helps to guide the conversation towards more productive and mutually beneficial outcome.

Often, protocols and standards are implied within peer groups and societies generally, though we believe we can have our own explicit agreements on a process that helps moderate our conversations or exchanges.

So, for example if we don’t agree with the other’s tone, volume, context, rhetoric or simply detect unwanted anger (whoever “wants” anger?) then the agreement allows us to object to prevent us from feeling intimidated by the other person’s use of words or behaviour during our exchange. We can do this by using COS to either de-escalate or disengage.

COS stands for:

  1. Caution
  2. Object
  3. Stop

COS works by accounting for recalcitrant exchanges with 3 strikes and we’re out.
Strike 1. A Caution is applied and an acknowledgment is necessary from the offender eg “ yeah ok, I retract”.
Strike 2. An Objection is raised “I Object” and an apology is necessary.
Eg. “Yeah sorry I was out of line”.
Strike 3. Stop is applied and then an acceptable apology is necessary.
Eg What was done, why it was done and what would be done next time”. And this apology needs to be accepted by the receiver.

The COS 3 strikes should be applied consecutively ie. We cannot use Object or Stop unless we have used Caution first. We agree that we are both responsible for moderating each other’s behavior, during our exchanges, using COS and if we ever reach Stop we both agree to follow up later in an exchange to see how we allowed ourselves to get to this level of objection, as obviously the ideal is to never need to use COS or only get to a the Caution level. Another example is like the free kick in football, then a yellow card and finally a red card, where the offender is sent off.

And finally this proposal and any other from us can always be improved through our future conversations/exchanges and any updates to this or any other process or principle should be appreciated, anticipated and ultimately encouraged.

Conversation Vs Negotiation

I guess you or I have never thought to ask what is the difference between a negotiation and a conversation, well I haven’t to date, but just started thinking about it recently.

A conversation is more personal, for example: if someone said “I want you to marry me” or “would you marry me”, during a conversation your reply might “gee thanks and yes I will”. But with a negotiation your response could be less personal. Eg:
“So you want to marry me or me to marry you? Hmmmm….. Well, what I would like from you is to be more transparent and explain yourself more clearly. Can you put together a more formal proposal to me explaining in detail what you want from me and why and where etc and I will get back to you on your proposal”.
Considering this is probably the most important proposal or conversation we could ever have, putting it into a more formal context makes so much more sense than how it has been treated in the past. Especially considering the financial and legal implications of such a request/proposal.

Oh! I like the negotiation sooooo much more as it gives the receiver of such a question or request so much more power in how they reply. Imagine if every woman that was ever asked to marry replied with this negotiation skill, perhaps there would be less divorces.

Maybe it is time for more women to prepare this type of proposal for men and see how the men would respond ie negotiate or simply reply in a conversation. I am preparing myself for such a proposal and know/hope it will be much more a negotiation rather than a conversation. 🙂

My First Proposal

If I wanted to have a business relationship with you I would make you a business proposal. A proposal is not so much a question but the beginnings of a negotiation process where we state what we want and what we are willing to give in exchange.
It is, as they say a quid pro quo.

If I wanted to have a personal relationship with you then I would think the same should apply, where we make a series of proposals as part of our negotiation, with the ultimate goal of making a marriage proposal. Once again, I suggest that it is a quid pro quo.

But, somehow, I don’t think that is how it is working out in personal relationships today or ever. Sure, couples court each other, implicitly talking about what they are looking for and not looking for from each other but when the marriage proposal is made what have they exactly agreed to? Who really knows?

My suggestion is that we start to be more explicit in our negotiations and proposals during personal relationships. And, I suggest that our first proposal should be this, “let’s start negotiating and what would you like to propose?”

This may explain why there are so many broken relationships and marriages.
There seems to be so much focus on the “marriage proposal” where he pops the question and she foolishly accepts without detailing what exactly what is he proposing. What is it that he is offering and what does he want in exchange? What are the exact details for the proposal and can we put them down in writing and sign for them, turning our vague marriage certificate into a more formal and detailed contract.

If we are going to sign something when we marry then why not know exactly what we are signing for, I say. So I guess this post is my first proposal in our marriage proposal.

Rules of Disengagement

We all have heard of Rules of Engagement, used for when soldiers are in combat.
Nato have an ROE Manual and another is called the San Remo Rules of Engagement. The Geneva Convention are another set of rules but used for disengagement and used to protect people who are not part of or no longer taking part in hostilities.

Imagine if we developed a set of rules that we could agree to use in our personal and business relationships to protect us from each other when we want to no longer take part in a disagreement, dispute or argument. A set of agreed-to rules to allow us to disengage. I believe that is what is missing in our lives and contributes to enormous problems in our business and personal relationships.

I have come up with 3 simple rules of disengagement that could work if we were willing to agree to use them and give them a try.

  1. Caution – “I would like to caution you now…” This is a warning to be careful that we can activate to let the other know that we have an issue with what was just said or how it was said and a de-escalation or slowing down is necessary or we face heading towards the second step.
  2. Objection – “I object….” Where we object to what was said or how it was said and require the other to retract the offending behavior with a simple apology.
  3. Stop – “I would like to stop now…” Where we call an ending to the proceedings until an acceptable apology is given. If we get to this point it is quite likely that the person is showing the beginnings of contempt for these rules of disengagement.

These proposed rules of disengagement (ROD) need to be tested to see how useful they are and to see what issues and problems evolve out of using them. But worth a try.