Upsetting the Applecart

Cinergy Coaching by Cinnie Noble

When we accuse someone of upsetting the applecart we generally think that person is causing trouble and creating difficulties by doing or saying something that challenges the status quo. Of the four variations of the source of the expression that I read about, the most basic and generic derivation refers to farmers in the 1800s who would bring applecarts loaded with neatly piled, fresh apples for sale to market. The story goes that when “a clumsy person” knocked over the cart, it spills all the apples and spoils the farmer’s plan to sell the apples. The phrase subsequently came to mean knocking things off balance – in a situation and relationship.

This idiom came back into my awareness just this past week when a coaching client told me about a situation with his manager. He said, “If she hadn’t upset the applecart by making that policy I’d have a better chance for a promotion – sooner than later!” When I asked the client – I’ll call him Henry – to tell me more about what happened he continued to use the idiom. Henry described himself as the cart rolling along nicely being pushed by his ambition and confidence. He said when his boss changed a policy about the requirements to become a team leader he realized his opportunity to move ahead as quickly as he had hoped was kyboshed.

I asked Henry what the apples in the cart were and he responded, “they were my hopes, my skills, my hard work, and my dedication that toppled out of the cart”. He told me he confronted his boss in his anger (“a career limiting move”) and a conflict ensued. Henry subsequently retained me to “put the apples back in the cart”. I thought this was an interesting way that Henry discussed his interests and needs and I wanted to pass it on to you (with his permission).

This week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) blog invites readers to consider how vivid this idiom is when it comes to an interpersonal conflict you are or were involved in, and you might use this expression.

Thinking of a current or past interpersonal conflict, what did the other person say or do that upset the apple cart?

What would you say the cart represents?

What do the apples represent?

What upset you most about this situation? What did her or his actions “spoil”?

What did you say or do in response?

How did your response help? In what ways might you have contributed to the cart of apples toppling over?

How might you put the applecart upright again? (For instance, what would you say or do, and what else would it take to do so?)

How would you make sure the apples you referred to in question 2 are back – safely and securely in the cart?

How will it feel when things are back in place?

What inner resources, experience, or wisdom do you have that will facilitate that (your answer to the previous question)?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?


Cinnie Noble

Cinnie Noble is a certified coach (PCC) and mediator and a former lawyer specializing in conflict management coaching. She is the author of two coaching books: Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model and Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You. MORE >

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