Five hands clasped at the wrists with a grass background.

What is Cooperation?

In Skills for Change, we think of cooperation in terms of both what it is (sharing 100% of what we want and negotiating to agreement) and what it isn’t (no secrets, no lies, no rescues, and no power plays.) Fundamentally, since we often have difficulty asking for what we want and negotiating to agreement, cooperation is easiest to recognize by what it isn’t: it isn’t a power play where we are either making someone do something they don’t want to do or keeping them from doing something they want to do. Secrets, lies and rescues are all forms of power plays.

In most romantic relationships, friendships, community relationships and peer relationships, we begin from a presumption of relatively equal footing. We each have a choice about whether to be in relationship with each other, and our relationship is dependent on both of us deciding to continue the relationship. Our mutual right to decide whether to stay or go gives us power in the relationship. In Skills for Change, we like to talk about the fact that everyone has equal rights, but not everyone has equal power.

In parental, work and organizational relationships, there is usually a hierarchy. The hierarchy means one person has some to vastly more power than the other person. Unless a parent violates a child’s rights or loses their rights through criminal behavior, the parent has a high degree of power over their child’s location, who they spend time with, and what they do with their time. In a work setting, a boss has financial power — most people can’t afford to live without their paycheck, and the ability to fire an employee gives the boss a great deal of authority over what the employee does at work and how they do it.

Nancy Shanteau Bio

Nancy Shanteau is the lineage bearer for Skills for Change Coaching, an approach to making life changes for individuals seeking power-informed radical embodiment theory and practice. Co-author of Access to Power: a Radical Approach for Changing Your Life, she leads online courses such as Live Your Relationship Values and Cooperative Communication. Nancy identifies as white, multi-ethnic, pansexual, aromantic, relationship anarchist and as a settler living in unceded Nisenan territory. Find her on Patreon at

Trust Formula from Nancy Shanteau's Trust-Building Worksheet. Illustrations by Patrick Stein.

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