Monday, January 16, 2012

Who Decides?

We need to always be mindful of who has the power in a conversation. There is often a difference between who has the authority and who has the power.

Take for example, driving a car. Who is in charge? The person behind the wheel, right? Well, maybe. Someone not even in the car - on the phone maybe - or a bothersome back seat driver may actually be in control, even if not in front of the wheel. Implicit and explicit control may be different.

We have all been back seat drivers in conversation – people with the power, but not the authority. How we act in these situations is a key component of building healthy relationships and communities.

Forget about the times when we do this on purpose – manipulate. We call this “kicking the can down the road” or its opposite “handcuffing”. People looking for results without accountability will work very hard to get themselves “set up” in this way. In these situations, the hope for a true working relationship to continue past the recognition of the manipulation is faint.

The real damage to relationships can occur when this shifting of real decision making power is accidental, inadvertent or not recognized well into the process. The party who is left with the risk of making a decision that they’re not completely free to make will feel violated. Animosity will occur. Working relationships will be damaged if not destroyed.

In our best relationships, we need to call this out when we see it especially when we are the ones with the power. Simple phrases like “I can see how I’ve put you in a difficult situation. I didn’t mean to do that. How can we fix this?” or “No matter which way you move here, I think there is greater risk to you than there should be. How can I share this risk with you”?

Conflict is only avoidable in relationships that aren’t very valuable. When walking away isn’t an option, calling ourselves out for mistakes in an environment of trust is key to ensuring balanced, mutually beneficial relations.

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