The idiom “Don’t upset the applecart”, applies, in this case to the the ‘system’ of conversation. What ‘system’, you may ask. The playwright Bertolt Brecht said “When something seems ‘the most obvious thing in the world’ it means that any attempt to understand the world has been given up.” I think that we have given up any attempt to understand the system of conversation and I also believe it is time we upset this applecart.
It seems to me that most participants of conversation comply with the idiom “Don’t upset the applecart” and have never questioned why we converse or how we should go about doing it better. Generally conversation – the applecart, is geared to discourage overt disagreement by having no standard and explicit rules for moderating poor behavior, other than trying to be civil and courteous. It’s still like the wild west when we disagree.
Evidence of this is that we tend to have lots of separate, follow up conversations, with third parties, about each other’s poor behavior during conversation i.e. gossip. This being an attempt to resolve, in our own minds, any disagreements and upsetting behavior due to the lack of protections during disputes.
Object123, is a Psychological Safety framework that can help us upset the applecart of conversation. It encourages disagreement during conversation by helping us moderate each other’s poor behavior, in real-time, offering us protectection from being abused..
For example: Object123 “If one person is upset with anything that is said or done by the other, we agree that he or she has the right to interrupt the conversation and object, in real-time, to the perceived upsetting behavior”.
This is done by using three consecutive objection phases:
Caution – Official Cautioning – eg. “I would like to caution you”. Cautioning the perceived offender, directly and in real-time, to get an acknowledgment of the offense or an explanation, otherwise it can be escalated to:
Object – Official Objection – eg. “I would like to object now”. Objecting to the offender, in private, that an acknowledgment or an adequate explanation was not given for the perceived offense. Now, if a simple apology is not forthcoming then it can be escalated to:
Stop – Official Stopping – eg. “I would like us to stop now”. Stop because the offended person did not receive a simple apology or an adequate explanation and now an acceptable apology would be required. The conversation would be stopped until this issue was resolved.
At any time the accused offender can dispute their offense by giving an appropriate explanation but if their appeal is not sustained then they risk the caution being escalated to an objection and ultimately the stopping of the conversation until the issue is resolved.
Ultimately, this is done by taking the issue to a weekly hearing before our peers, where it can be reviewed and adjudicated on.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.