Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

language of valid / invalid objections has connotation of doing something wrong

In my experience, people want to avoid doing something that will turn out "invalid".
We're trying to offset this by emphasizing "do you see _any_ reason ..." or "Would you like to _try_ an objection". And these work to an extent.

For some time now I experimented with avoiding the valid/invalid language and instead I say:
- "Let's test this objection and see if we need to integrate it."
- "Okay, let's keep this for the integration round"
- "You just told me we don't need to integrate this objection"

What I like about it that it avoids introducing extra language and instead ties back to the meaning of valid/invalid objections without invoking the connotation of "invalid" of doing something wrong.

What do you think of this practice?

I'm thinking of proposing a change to the constitution to simplify the language there as it's the source of this valid/invalid language.

16 Replies
Brian Robertson

Interesting perspective.  I've sensed something similar, and avoid calling an objection "invalid" as a result.  Instead, I always say "not a valid objection" (vs. "invalid"), as in "you've just told me that's not a valid objection", rather than "you've just told me that objection is invalid".  It's a subtle difference, but I think it reinforces the paradigm Holacracy aims for quite powerfully.  The latter labels the objection; the former conveys that there is criteria that this objection hasn't met.

Whether it makes sense to go further, I'm not sure.  I do think there's an issue with each of the three examples you gave that's perhaps worse than the issue you're solving: all three are subtly hiding facilitator & constitutional authority ("let us" and "we don't need to" are clues to reinforcing something different).  So I'm skeptical of those approaches, yet also intrigued, and I do think it's a good practice to avoid declaring an objection invalid (or valid for that matter; I also avoid saying "that's a valid objection").

Isabelle Rappart

I love this discussion, very close to one of my main concerns when facilitating a governance meeting. And what if instead of valid/invalid objection, we would use integrable/not integrable objection ? I didn't try but Adam's post and Brian's reply gave me this idea.

It seems to me that "integrable" is smoother and more neutral than "valid", your thoughs about that ?

Tom Mulder

My tension on "You just told me we don't need to integrate this objection" is that the Objector might feel different. When asked what is the harm and you have a better idea then you are truly convinced that your additions need to be integrated in the proposal. But according to the Rules this is not a valid objection.

So I resonate with you on the efforts to make it lighter but for this proposed line I feel a tension. Like the question and look forward to insights from others.

Chris Cowan

[@mention:456308404254624012] I like all of those options. If the goal is to encourage objections (and I think it should be), then all of those work towards that purpose. Though, I hope the facilitator would also help the objector understand the criteria as appropriate. Meaning, I don't think you need to avoid the language of "valid" and "invalid," as long as overall, your stance on objections is encouraging. But all things being equal, if it's purely about the phrasing, then those options seem fine to me. 

[@mention:449693036223847456] I like the strategic use of the words like "let's..." and "we..." in this context because a) it's perfectly true that the outputs are always group outputs; b) it quarantines the misunderstanding/struggle people have between working together and autocratically deciding something, so that the language isn't distracting from the actual goal (which again, is to encourage objections). 

I know that there is a difference between "not a valid objection" (i.e. unspecified) and an "invalid objection," but the distinction is too nuanced in the context. Either way, people interpret it as a judgment of validity, since they are looking for agreement. It's the same as if my fiance asked me, "Do I look fat in this?" and I said, "Unspecified." 


Overall, if objections are encouraged, then when it comes to testing them, I've found I usually don't have a problem telling an objector very clearly, "that isn't a valid argument," (or something that otherwise seems much more judgemental), because overall they feel curious and supported by the process as a whole. 

What's coming to mind is Gregory Bateson's argument that communication always includes two levels; 1) the content level and the 2) relationship level. It's like a wife asking her tardy husband, "Do you know what time it is!?" She isn't communicating her own lack of knowledge about the time (i.e. content), she is clearly communicating her disapproval of his behavior (i.e. relationship). 

Adam Banko

Love your perspectives!

How about:

"You just told me we can continue without integrating this objection"?

or "You just told me we can safely accept this proposal without integrating this objection"?

I would avoid the "integrable" language [@mention:450678740272473756] mentioned. I find it misleading as this is not about if we could integrate the objection (as integrable suggests) but if we must integrate before we can make a safe-to-try decision. I wonder if there is a simple phrase like integrable that conveys this meaning?

Brian Robertson

I resonate with Tom's point here.  Chris, while I strongly share your sense of the  importance of encouraging objections, I think you're underestimating the subtle impact caused by failing to anchor Facilitator authority in the rules of the game here - yes, encourage objections, but not at the expense of this principle; there are other ways to do that with no downside, where here there's a substantial downside, and this isn't a tradeoff that needs to be made - you can have your cake and eat it too.  Adam, the use of "we can" in your latest post hits that issue and I'd recommend avoiding it; the Facilitator should not be speaking for the "we" if there's any risk of someone else feeling like it doesn't capture their sense of things, and that's almost definitely the case here.

Chris Cowan

[@mention:449693036223847456] I don't disagree in principle, and maybe my sense of it is different than Adam's, so I could be underestimating the impact of how other facilitator's may convey the message, but for my own use of the word, "we" in this kind of context, it works perfectly well. It nicely offsets the otherwise impersonal feeling of the meetings, and it's strategically ambiguous, which allows everyone to unconsciously select the meaning they prefer (i.e. "we" could mean facilitator-objector, or facilitator-objector-proposer, or everyone in this meeting, or...). So, I don't think it necessarily conveys any particular message other than, "There is a norm that it's OK to raise an objection." Or at least that's been my experience with using framing like that. Of course that may not feel authentic (and therefore wouldn't work) for everyone. 

Tom Mulder

[@mention:456308404254624012] Instead of the invalid or not valid line you might refer back to the agreement we made as an organization when adopting Holacracy.

So a line like "So you just told me that your objection is not in line with the Rules we agreed upon" might do the trick. 

Myself I use the line Brian uses but with the addition where I refer to the Rules. "So you just told me your Objection is not valid according to the Rules of the Constitution". The reason for this is that it provides me an easy way to refer to art. 3.2.4. when asked "Why" and it directly aims it at the Process and not the person who is facilitating (no judgement from the Facilitator).

Interested in your learnings and the way forward you take.

Chris Cowan

[@mention:523162737680436711] Love this: "...your objection is not in line with the Rules we agreed upon." I'm going to steal it!

Personally, I have a hard time saying the first part though; "You just told me..." for some reason. I know the purpose is to make it clear that the facilitator isn't interpreting and judging, but I can't find a place inside myself where it feels authentic. Well actually, I don't my tendency toward global language to get in the way....so, I have said it. But it's mostly in a training context and maybe just because it's habit. When I try to say it in real-life, it always feels a little like a "gotcha!" statement. Again, maybe it's just me. 

In practice, I usually end of saying something like, "Well, based on THAT, it wouldn't be a valid objection..." or, "Since the objection isn't coming from one of your roles then it's not a valid objection." 


I too am loving this thread it is rare I open it up and read start to finish all the ideas! I'm liking the diversity of wording and I certainly will steal some of these words. 

I usually coach outside of meeting or in time-out a lot around the meeting the high threshold of a objection. And focus on the difference between a tension and an objection. So when you sense something it is tension but the objection threshold is higher intentionally because objections add a stop sign to the process. We don't want people adding stop signs anywhere just where we absolutely need. The rules we adopted have a high criteria for objection to protect the agenda item holder and promote trying things. If you have something you think might cause harm bring it up, it might be a tension or it might be an objection the test questions will sort that out. 

In process the words I use are the same as Brian "not a valid objection" I work with teachers and there is a little sensitivity around that language initially but with the coaching outside of meeting usually the discomfort is quickly moved through. We have a pretty diverse team but maybe there are cultural implications I haven't encountered.

Sometimes I might say, "You're telling me you're worried about this but it doesn't reach the threshold of harm so if you find yourself feeling tension bring it to a meeting or add it to the agenda now." 

We get a lot of word choice objections, elaborate arguments to say I don't like the word choice and when they come up invalid, I encourage those to be made asynchronously. "If you have better words send them out." Rarely people do because it's not even really a tension just a preference. 

Love the discussion! Thanks for all the good words.

Brian Robertson

Tom:  Careful there, the first and fourth in your list do not follow from the constitution; nowhere does it say an objection is not valid if you think you have a better idea, nor if you are trying to help another role.  Framing a statement those ways is teaching people the wrong rules, and will contribute to later facilitators throwing out objections just because someone says they have a better idea, which in itself tells you absolutely nothing about the validity of the objection (an objection is not valid under the first constitutional criteria if someone states it won't cause harm; whether or not they have a better idea is immaterial).

I'm also not a fan of the other two for reasons I've already shared, though those at least are speaking to the constitutional criteria correctly.  Although be careful about "let's put it on the agenda" - it's helpful to remind them that they have that choice, but watch out for language that sounds like they really should do that, or, worse, effectively leads them there or makes the choice for them.

Tom Mulder

Brian, thanks for the heads up. Jumped on my horse to fast to give Chris a reply. Do not use these lines myself. To avoid any misunderstanding I will remove the post.

Also thanks for the subtle nuances we have to bare in mind. You may put.... instead of Let's put as an example. Always provide the option and have them make their own choice.

Ian Forbes

There is so much in the nuance in the language used here. The term 'The Constitution' resonates, in my view, very differently for a US citizen than it does for citizens of other countries. The UK, for example, doesn't have a written constitution, so it would be rare to hear a reference to a constitution, as if that carried a certain weight and authority, and could trigger a respectful. My preference, when working with non-US citizens, or a multinational group, would be to refer to 'Our Constitution' - an implicit reminder that it is not something that we were born into. Instead, it was co-created by our joint agreement, just as 'the rules' are 'our rules'.


I have been struggling with this the last months. At the beginning of the Holacracy implementation we had great coaches, which made time-outs or explained the right way to formulate an objection at the end of the meetings, in case you made a mistake. Since they are gone, our facilitators make a great job, but they just stick strictly to the rules, and this has had some negative effects on the participation rate in the meetings and the trust/sympathy towards the system. Of course this has a big connection to our organizational culture. Not everybody had the same chance to make the practitioner training, and we are not really a great example for a Trust and psychological security- characterized Environment, so many people are really afraid of fail, and don’t want to expose their selves. People which made the experience, that the way of formulating their tensions was not valid, just started missing the meetings or stopped raising tensions to avoid “blame”. I have observed this scene in almost every circle I shadow. People have really VALID reasons but answer to the check-questions in a wrong way, so then they are just out of the game. It certainly hearts them to hear “you just told me, that your tension is invalid” and to see the process goes just forwards, without caring about this still unsolved but justified tension. If every facilitator had a coaching or pedagogical background, they wouldn’t probably need any other formula. They would recognize and differentiate between not valid reasons and not valid “expressions/answer” to explain that reason. As this is (at least for us) mostly not the case, I guess some “tip” regarding not valid objections with valid Reasons might be helpful (Of course I did tell them, this is not an encouraging situation from a psychological perspective, but as it is not embedded into the system, they don’t feel like they could/should do something about it). 

 I think it is very important to hold the process and the rules,  but at least as important is to aknowledge the learning process people are going through and to take into account, which impact our expressions and behaviours may have on the development of the change-story. If we keep refusing valid objections, just because they are not expressed as they should, we might be inhibiting the development of positive behaviours, more than stopping the negative ones. 

Brian Robertson

Ian:  I appreciate that cultural reminder and language nuance; that tweak makes a lot of sense to me.

Eliana:  One of the downsides of adopting Holacracy is definitely that it requires good coaches - not just good referees - at least until the team has stabilized around playing the new game.  And it sounds like you've got referees when you still need coaches.  Simple refereeing is all you need (and maybe all you want) once the team all know how to play the game, but refereeing alone is not that helpful (and potentially quite frustrating) when people don't know how to play the game effectively yet.  Maybe consider bringing a skilled coach back in for those teams?  Or, if budget won't allow that, perhaps consider trying to train-up some of those referees into full-fledged coaches, with the help of a Holacracy Coach Training?  I sure do empathize with the challenge you (and the whole team) face...

Jeff Kreh

[@mention:449693036223847456], developing internal capacity has to be the goal for an organization that really intends to make self-governance their reality. It seems to me that the Constitution and practice may bring individuals in the organization part of the way. I'm curious to learn how you and others who've gone all in and are succeeding overcame the cultural paternalistic indoctrination of youth to embrace the self-leading maturity necessary for success. Without undoing the damage of paternalism and inculcating a sui juris disposition in its people, how likely is any organization to succeed for long with such liberty?