This writing is excerpted from the Skills for Change Cooperative Communication course I teach online. Learn more here.
Asking for What You Want in a Hierarchy
Just because we are in a hierarchy, doesn’t mean we can’t ask for what we want. Often, leaders are happy to hear suggestions, offers, and other requests especially when the asker acknowledges the power structure.
“I know you will make a final decision that takes lots of variables into account, and I trust that you are doing your best to hold the whole while taking care of the parts. I thought if I explained my point of view and what I see, that it might help you make a more informed decision about my part of the business. And perhaps you can explain to me what contribution you’d like to see from me and my team in the coming months.”
“I know you are probably trying to keep expenses low or none while maintaining the building and the landscape, and I respect that there are lots of things you take care of that I don’t see, but get the benefit of on a daily basis. Thank you for all of your work. I’d like to share some ideas I and my roommates have for improving our apartment and hear how you usually like to see these kinds of improvements made, what works and what doesn’t work for you, and how I can be a great tenant for your apartment.”
The Relationship between Power and Trust
When people are clearing and one person won’t let go of their story about the other person, I know there’s a power/trust problem. Either the person doesn’t trust the other person, or even more importantly, they don’t trust themselves to take care of themselves if things don’t go well. Sometimes, simply pointing this out will help someone change their position relative to the story, or at least we can make a plan for what they need to do to build trust with themselves before they will change their story to include the other person’s story. I don’t even try to build trust across a relationship between two people when the person doesn’t trust themselves.
One of the reasons people hold onto their defensive stories is that they don’t trust themselves to hold boundaries without their story. The negative story holds the boundary and then we can take the action we need to take. If we have a more compassionate or big picture story, we might not then take care of ourselves and our needs. If we can build self-trust that we will hold a boundary anyway, then we can accept other people’s stories as also true.
Once we’ve established self-trust, then we can apply the Trust Formula to create an analysis for why they don’t trust the other person. We’ll talk about that more in the next activity.