Do objections have to be “valid”?

Can we let go of the right-and-wrong thinking about objections?

Photo by Damon Hall on Unsplash

What makes an objection valid?

  • Every circle (aka team) has a shared aim, a description of what they are trying to accomplish.
  • If someone makes a proposal, that proposal can’t contradict the shared aim.
  • If there is a contradiction, any team member can object and stop the decision.
  • Resolving a reasoned objection will improve the proposal and make better decisions.

Why this definition is too narrow

  • Let’s imagine a circle with the aim of producing sneakers. Someone proposes a new way to manufacture sneakers. That new process doesn’t harm (but even furthers) our capacity to make sneakers. But it has the downside of poisoning the rivers forever. If we only allow objections in relation to the aim, then we can’t object to the poisoned river because there is no negative impact on our capacity to fulfill our aim. Do you want to have a governance system that forces you to say yes to harmful decisions just because you have no formally ‘valid’ reason to say no? I don’t. That means the definition of objections is too narrow.
  • And it gets even more complicated. Let’s say we’re trying to approve a proposal that would not bring any disadvantages for our aim but for whatever reason really rubs one of our coworkers the wrong way. Let’s say we stand our ground and tell that co-worker that they can’t object. What’s the long-term effect of that on our group dynamics? If our internal trust deteriorates, how does that serve our shared aim?
    Sometimes, it’s more like we win the battle but lose the war. Not worth it.
  • Ultimately, any definition of what makes an objection valid will re-introduce power struggles. Who decides validity? If the facilitator fails to see the value of an objection, it might be dismissed and an opportunity lost. Then who decides what’s ‘valid’? Once the question of validity is under debate, the team as a whole has already lost. After all, I’ve rarely ever seen people respond to “your objection isn’t valid” with “Oh yeah, you’re right, ok, I’ll withdraw it.” A more common reaction is arguing, defensiveness, disconnect, disenfranchisement. On both sides, prioritizing being right is not wise.

Skills, skills, skills

  • Objection skills. Every circle member needs to understand what an objection is and how it’s different from just trying to get your own way.
  • Facilitator skills. The facilitator will be able to ask for clarification about the objection. I often ask, “sorry, can you help me see how your objection relates to the circle’s aim?” Most of the time, when we probe respectfully, objectors will retract their objection or explain themselves. In addition, at least facilitators need to know how to integrate objections swiftly, so decision-making is considerate and fast.
  • Team skills. The best facilitators can’t be effective if the rest of the team openly rolls their eyes. But if enough people on the team manage to listen constructively and with curiosity, they help create an environment where people know that they matter.
  • We understand the objector’s viewpoint and learn something new.
  • We get an opportunity to show that we actually mean it when we say that we care about each other’s viewpoints.
  • We don’t even have to change the proposal because having been heard well already did the trick.




Sociocracy, Non-Violent Communication, Linguistics

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