On the Lookout for Moments of Iteration

The difference between intention and impact has been on my mind a lot in recent months. I have been an observer – and a participant – in a number of interactions where someone’s words were unintentionally hurtful to others. But their good intentions didn’t make the impact any less hurtful to the people affected. These interactions can leave both sides confused, upset, and hurt.

It is also possible to view these as moments of iteration; moments where we can take a step back, reset, and try again for another iteration of the conversation. I was in one such situation this week; a group that has known each other and worked purposefully on addressing challenging issues for a few years. In sharing personal experiences, one member of the group used words that hurt others in the room. What happened next was powerful. The leader of the group recognized the need to pause the conversation, make a direct request, and check in with the group to see what reactions people had. And there were reactions. The group processed, reconciled, and moved on. Addressing it in the moment was certainly more challenging and disruptive than letting the moment pass, but ultimately created more safety and accountability in the group, and built a stronger foundation for future interactions. This was possible in the group I was in because there was a high level of emotional trust. This isn’t unique to this group; this trust can be built in any group – it just takes time and deliberate effort. As challenging as this moment was, I was grateful to be in a group where such issues can be addressed in the moment rather than left to fester and build into something more painful and systemically accepted. What the group leader did was, in essence, create space for the “Ouch and Oops Protocol.”

The “Ouch and Oops Protocol“, which has been used by the American Defamation League and on college campuses around the US over the last decade, is a tool I recommend to organizations looking to address microaggressions and difficult moments like this one. To use a poison ivy analogy, the protocol aims to nip issues like this in the bud in the moment they take place to avoid letting their roots grow and become stronger and more widespread. In simple terms, the idea is to create group / meeting space guidelines to invite anyone to speak up in the moment they hear a hurtful comment, with an “ouch.” They may then be able to articulate more of what was hurtful about the comment, allowing the person who made the comment to offer an “oops,” apologize, and ask follow-up questions to learn more about what they could do differently in future (they might also take this as a prompt to do some research of their own following the interaction). 

This Week’s Tip:

Introduce the Oops and Ouch Protocol in groups and spaces where you hold authority:

  1. If you don’t feel that your groups and spaces have the emotional trust to introduce this, focus on building that first. Introducing this protocol into a group without a basis of trust can harm the group rather than support it. Creating a level of trust will take time and deliberate effort. Use some of the tips from past emails, and/or contact us to see how Building Bridges Leadership can help.
  2. Talk about it in team meetings. Especially in the transitional re-opening stage so many organizations are working through, team members may be in very different emotional states; introducing this tool now will alleviate potential conflict later on.
  3. Add it to group guidelines, and/or post in meeting rooms. This tool becomes more powerful the more widely adopted it is. Provide easy reminders for people to try using it.
  4. Be on the lookout for “moments of iteration,” where it is possible to create a space for everyone involved to step back, reset, and try again.
  5. Put it into practice yourself. Model standing up against microaggressions, as a bystander or as someone personally affected. Model apologizing whenever you need to. Model learning how you can do better.

If the Oops and Ouch Protocol is something you’ve instituted, or if this is brand new to you, we’d love to know how this goes for you; contact us or post in our Facebook group.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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