THE ABCs OF POWER: THE LETTER E
On this blog we have been discussing personal power. We have noted that the reason why people use insults is to try to achieve their desires. This strategy often backfires. Therefore, we have been learning plans to increase our skill to achieve our desires without launching insults at others.
Learning the sources of power greatly enhances our skills to achieve our desires. And once we become confident that we have a variety of effective ways to achieve our desires, we begin to feel more self assured and less likely to become defensive when others begin to criticize us.
After introducing these basic ideas, I began to build a list of sources of power. This list is in alphabetical order. So far, it looks like this:
THE ABCs OF POWER
A=Advancing Skill (see The ABCs of Power: The letter “A”)
B=Breaking Down a Conflict into its Three Conditions: Desire, Interference and Guilt (see The ABCs of Power: The Letter “B”)
C=Coalitions (see The ABCs of Power: The Letter “C”).
D=Discussions or Debates (see The ABCs of Power: The letter “D”)
When the list is completed, there will be sources of power all the way up to the letter “F.” Today we add to our list a source of power that begins with the letter “E.”
E is For Encouraging Caring
One way to achieve your desire is to make a request. For example, suppose Judy, whenever she criticizes me, does so by shouting and calling me names. I find that I have a desire to maintain a good relationship with Judy but the way she goes about criticizing me is leading me to consider ending it. What can I do about this? Well, one thing I could do is to wait until Judy is in a relatively good mood, and then make the following request.
By making my request in this way to Judy there is a better chance that my desire to continue to have a good relationship with Judy will occur than if I just end my relationship with her without making my request.
There are, of course, several ways to go about making a request–some are more likely to achieve your desires than others. For example, imagine what might happen if I asked Judy to stop shouting and insulting me while she is in the middle of shouting and insulting me. And let’s say that as I made this request, I began to shout at her while calling her a pile of garbage for shouting and insulting me.
Using that style of making a request can actually make it harder for me to achieve my desire. Rather than making me more powerful, it can lead to my becoming a weaker individual. It can increase the chances that Judy will become angry with me and she may end up storming away. She may begin to talk about me behind my back in a way that leads others to lose respect for me. All of this is the very opposite of what I desire.
So, as these two examples demonstrate, your style of making a request can either increase, or decrease your power.
Interestingly, even if I make my request in a way that is respectful to Judy, as in the first of the two above examples, if she learns that whenever she refuses any of my requests I then begin to shout and insult her, she can still end up losing respect for me. For example, consider the following scenario:
When turned down, John angrily conveys his belief that Pete is selfish and uncaring. This pattern of responding when a request is turned down is often referred to as “guilting.” “Laying a guilt trip on someone” and “seeking to impose guilt on someone” are other expressions that may be used to refer to this pattern. Guilting is a very common way to respond when a request is turned down.
Contrast this guilting approach to the following:
In this comic, Diane expresses sadness about coming to class late and requests that Tom pick her up on time. As she makes the request, it is very similar to how John asks for help in the previous example. Neither John or Dianne insults the person to whom the request is made while they make their request. But when John is turned down, he begins to use guilting. When Dianne sees that Tom has refused her request, she remains supportive. We will be calling Diane’s style of making a request “encouraging caring.”
It’s crucial to point out here that even with all that Diane does in this comic, a slight change in the end could turn it into guilting. For example, suppose that after becoming convinced that Tom will not do as she asks, she gets up to leave and yells at him, red faced, “You’re a selfish creep!” Then she would have used guilting and Tom would consequently begin to develop an expectation that this will be her pattern of reacting whenever he turns down her requests.
When someone makes a request in a manner consistent with encouraging caring, they do the following:
When we ask others to help, it is acceptable to express sadness at the current state of affairs and to seek a mutually satisfying solution. If our request is turned down, it is not acceptable to view the refuser as evil. To seek to humiliate those who turn down our requests is forbidden, while showing empathy and support are essential. Some people make the mistake of thinking that to use encouraging caring effectively, people must learn to resign themselves to doing nothing else but graciously accepting it when a person turns down their requests. In many situations that is the wisest choice. But there are many alternatives that can be considered that are consistent with the supportive encouraging caring source of power.
In two earlier posts, I gave some examples of people using encouraging caring and guilting (see AN INTRODUCTION TO GUILTING and GUILTING VERSUS ENCOURAGING CARING). I also described in those posts the research indicating that those who use encouraging caring instead of guilting are more likely to enhance their reputation and in the long run are more likely to achieve compliance to their requests. Those posts are worth taking a look at. For now, let’s take a look at a fresh example of someone making a request.
Here Charlie Brown asks Lucy to trade her Joe Shlabotnik baseball card for some of his cards. He makes the request in a sincere manner, and when Lucy refuses, he remains respectful, avoids any insults, and offers her some additional choices to entice her to trade. Again she refuses, and although he is clearly disappointed, he walks away without insulting Lucy. Is this a case of encouraging caring?
Encouraging caring requires that the requester remains supportive and respectful throughout the request, even when it becomes quite clear that the other party will not comply.
What appears missing in Charlie Brown’s efforts to acquire the card is showing empathy and support for Lucy’s position. He doesn’t seem to care why Lucy wants to hold onto the card.
Charlie Brown could have provided us a clearer demonstration of encouraging caring if he had taken more time to ask her more about why the card was valuable to her, and then listened carefully to what she had to say. He could have summarized her position in a kind tone of voice that showed he understands and empathizes with her position. In the end, he could have said: “I understand that you think Joe is cute. Well, Lucy, it’s your baseball card. If you don’t want to trade it, that’s your right.” To show Lucy that he is able to put himself in her shoes, he might mention a time when someone wanted to trade with him, but he refused.
When we think about encouraging caring as a source of power, it is important to remember that when someone does turn down your request it doesn’t mean that your only option is to graciously accept it and resign yourself to not having your desire fulfilled. As long as you remain supportive, there are other things that you can do that are consistent with encouraging caring.
In our example of Charlie Brown’s efforts to obtain a baseball card, what are some other things he could have done to persuade Lucy to make a trade with him while remaining supportive?
Well, at one point, Lucy explains why she doesn’t want to make the trade.
If Lucy wants the baseball card because Joe Shlabotnik is cute, perhaps Charlie Brown could find some used sports magazines that have several pictures of Joe’s cute face. Charlie could offer them as part of his trade. Or he could offer to take a picture of the baseball card with his camera, have the picture blown up, and put in a 9 X 12 inch frame. These ideas come from thinking about why Lucy desires to have the card and trying to come up with a way that fulfills her desire in a manner that does not interfere with Charlie’s desire to have the baseball card for his collection.
Lucy may have another motive for not trading with Charlie Brown than her stated reason—“Joe Shlabotnik is cute.” Perhaps it is because she is after power. By refusing to trade with him, Lucy is demonstrating that she has the power to refuse his offer. If Charlie Brown were to ask her what she believes would be a fair trade for the card, it empowers her to make an offer. Notice that Charlie does not do this. Instead, he keeps trying to come up with offers. If Lucy does come up with an idea for a fair trade, Charlie can then either accept her offer, or use it as a basis for coming up with a counter offer.
These are just some of the possible approaches that are open to Charlie as he seeks ways to have his desire fulfilled while remaining consistent with encouraging caring. When used with the other sources of power, people have the capacity to find numerous ways to fulfill their desires.
Well, I hoped you enjoyed today’s lesson. I hope to see you again real soon.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.