Sunday, June 05, 2011

Oops & Ouch

by Noah Geisel

My life is such that I attend a fair number of meetings. In recent years, a vogue best practice that has emerged is to start off the agenda with Norms. For the uninitiated, this is the new word for rules. A facilitator could probably explain better than I that norms are not exactly rules as one does not follow nor break norms; norms are simply the behaviors that we collaboratively agree to exhibit. You know the drill: “One person speaks at a time.” “All ideas will be heard and respected.” My favorite norm (I’m being sincere here!) is one I learned during an ADL World of Difference training: Oops & Ouch.

The Oops & Ouch rule, er, norm, is an invaluable tool in groups and meetings. The idea is simple: If I say something that I subsequently wish I could take back, I am encouraged to say, “Oops.” Think of it as a verbal Mulligan. A second chance to make a first impression. Likewise, if I am hurt, offended or in any way negatively impacted by something someone else says or does, I let it be known not by screaming, pointing or demanding an immediate letter of resignation but rather respond, “Ouch.” Instead of kicking the desktop computer (here, symbolizing our meeting) to the floor in frustration at its refusal to cooperate, this norm allows us to do a calm Control + Alt + Delete and reset relations.

An important piece of the Oops and Ouch norm is that we are assuming good intent in others. Even if we can’t assume it, we must give the benefit of the doubt. With this foundation in place, we are empowered to let someone know with a single word that all is not well on the USS Good Meeting cruise ship and that we need to recheck the navigation tools before we steer straight into a dark storm that knocks out power to the freezers and all causes all of the vacationers to get E.coli poisoning at the evening’s Tiki barbecue.

But enough with my B-rate analogies. The catalyst to my writing this comes from the bullet-proof tiger of an analogy that is John T. Spencer’s running blog posts on his Living Facebook Experiment.

Imagine the more civilized world of digital citizenship in which we would be living if in addition to the “Like” button, Facebook offered us the ability to click “Oops” or “Ouch” on any post. It would be great if our email apps and providers would afford us the same luxury. Who among us would not cherish the opportunity to go back and eat crow with a humble “Oops” declaration? (Though likely none of us more so than this guy)

Better yet, allow yourself the fantasy that we all practiced Mr. Spencer’s experiment. This would mean that Living Facebook would include rolling down the window to yell “Ouch” to an inconsiderate driver or saying “Oops” after being informed that it will ALWAYS be too soon to crack Michael Jackson jokes.

Best of all would be the fact that instead of thinking you awkward, listeners would know exactly what you were talking about. It is, after all, an experiment in living Facebook, and if there is one norm ubiquitous in most our lives, it is Facebook.


  1. At my school, the worst part of "norms" at the beginning of a meeting is that people can now call "norms" verbally to remind people that they are behaving badly. Every time I hear it, there's an initial spark of happiness where I'm transported for a moment to a place where everybody knows your name.

  2. Great post, SenorG! I'm a huge fan of norms and try to bring them in before any possible controversial or heated discussion among staff. I think many other organizations should adopt the idea of establishing norms at the beginnings of meetings, would make a much better environment for discussion.

    Also, liked your example from The New Yorker. Saw Jonas the other day at a Chronicle reunion. He seemed to be doing well so even the biggest mistakes can be recovered from.


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