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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
As one flies steer towards each other of the 7
If one of the 7 birds turn then the one turns
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.
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.