Chapter 5. Six Rules of Engagement

I have found through trial and error, and over the course of some 25 years, that making a Rethink Agreement, however flawed, is a good start for improving behavior, and also for improving previous and less than perfect agreements. In order to begin sharing our complaints in a responsible manner, and to put us on the path of creating even better agreements, I would like to suggest we first agree to the following 6 rules of engagement. The goal is to try to achieve Parallel Talking, as mentioned in Ch. 1, and to try to get back to that point whenever we stray off track in the heat of real conversation or dispute.

Speaking These agreements are based on the Golden Rule: treating others the way we would like to be treated. So, how do I like to be treated, or more to the point, how do I not want to be treated? Not such a simple question to be answered, I have found. I am still working this out, and probably will be for the rest of my life. What I have found is that I do not like people using non-adjustable language, which is when they set themselves up as some omnipotent authority on life by being all-knowing and certain. There was an apt quote by Dr. Who in the show called ‘Midnight’, (series 4): “I’m glad you’ve got an absolute definition of life in the Universe, but perhaps the Universe has got ideas of its own, hmm?” I also found that it irks me when people use non-accountable language; that’s when they try to blame me or someone else for how they choose to live and feel. And finally I found that high volume, a harsh tone, and aggressive language are not acceptable to me. I concluded that if this was how I did not want to be treated, then maybe I could try treating others with Adjustable, Accountable and Acceptable (to them) language.

Responding: So the question arose: how was I going to treat someone when they did not treat me with Adjustable, Accountable and Acceptable language? Through more trial and error, I have discovered that a good start is made by first Appreciating their contribution and participation, however flawed. Acknowledge what they were trying to achieve, was also useful, as I found that I hated being ignored. Finally, I found Apologising (speech in defense) for exposing their flaw and not delivering my message perfectly (early enough) during this process could get me over the line to encourage them to use more Adjustable, Accountable and ultimately more Acceptable language on me. This is the method I have tested on my brother and me.

The best option was having both participants agree beforehand to these two delivery concepts of speaking and responding/disputing. My ultimate goal or Holy Grail is to try to achieve a constructive conversation without these rules agreed to beforehand, if possible. But for now, here is my more detailed proposal for these rules of engagement that I am hoping to get your agreement on.

Detail of Speaking Rules of engagement are that we agree to try to speak using the following language:

1. Adjustable: We agree to try use Adjustable language when we are conversing, complaining or trying to make our point. Examples of this include reminding each other that these are only our opinions and prefacing our statements with “I think…” or “to me”, etc. There is no room for absolute language, such as “I know”, “it can’t be done” or “that’s impossible” without these prefaces, at least. At any point, we can enquire if the other person is still speaking from opinion rather than from fact, or using Factive Verbs.

2. Accountable: Being accountable in that we take responsibility for what we say or do, rather than blaming others. For example, “You make me so frustrated” changes to “I get frustrated when we talk about this”. No room for victims and persecutors. We make our bed and we lie in it. Why are rhetorical questions a problem in conversation? It is not an easy question to answer, but I can say that to me, rhetorical questions are used when we are not willing to be accountable for our thought or argument. “Why don’t you do it that way?” can be converted to “I don’t think you should do it that way because…”, which would then require an explanation from the speaker as to why. The speaker then becomes accountable for what they think and say.

3. Acceptable: If we find something that was said that we did not like for any reason, or even if we were unsure as to why, we do not have to accept it. If we notice any inconsistency or aggression in the other’s tone, we can simply say so, hopefully sooner rather than later, by using the following three speaking tools.

Detail of Responding Rules of engagement are that we agree to try to respond using the following language:

4. Appreciate their contribution, remembering that it is difficult to converse and create in a vacuum. Expecting to hear what we consider to be perfection is unrealistic. If we would like someone to speak up, appreciation is a great reward to encourage such behaviour and it also helps us to stay calm. It is hard to be infuriated and appreciative at the same time.

5. Acknowledge the context of their last point that was made and what they are trying to achieve. Ignoring them and their point is not an option. In fact, to me the word is the ugliest sounding word in the English language; IG-NORE and can send me into a tail spin of uncertainty, not knowing what was their actual issue of dispute.

6. Apologise or explain to them that you are sorry to inform that that you disagree and how you would prefer to be spoken to, and why you think that would be of benefit to them.
An example of this would be: “Thanks for letting me know about this issue, but I am sorry I don’t agree with your delivery. Can you talk to me in a more adjustable (accountable or acceptable) way so that I can help you? (give you more constructive feedback on your complaint)”

This is the basis of the Dispute Moderator: how we relate with each other as we try to prove and improve both these concepts and our general knowledge. We do this by conversing and sharing any complaints or disputes. By outsourcing someone else’s ears and thoughts and vice versa, we have an opportunity to double our capacity for learning and understanding every time we converse. This is a process we have been unconsciously trying to achieve for millennia on a hit-and-miss basis, I would say. Bitter disputes are the evidence of this ongoing process. By having an agreed method to moderate our disputes allows us to continue such valuable and constructive conversations.

Eventually, we end up with what I call the Dispute Moderator. These allow us to begin our Rethink Perfect conversations and actually test our six agreements during the process, to see if they fail and need reviewing in light of the concept and understandings. This is my plan for perfect relations AND the preparations for the failure. When your next conversation ends up in an argument or aggressive dispute, just think back and see if you can spot the times that you or they did not use one or more of the 6A framework. Then apologise and start over. Or better still, get the Dispute Moderator agreed to beforehand, test it out and send me your feedback as to its effectiveness.

Rethink Perfect Rules of Engagement

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