Kink in exile

Notes from a kinky nomad

Toolkit Tuesday, build agreements not authority

“Because I said so” isn’t just an easy answer, it’s a lazy answer.  Hell, after spending some time in a trust and agreement based culture, I am starting to think a simple majority is a lazy answer too.  I can almost hear the familiar groan of anyone who has had to work in a consensus culture, though, and rest assured I will not force you to sit through 3 hours of meetings about what kind of light bulb should be purchased for the community center bathrooms.  Rather, I will suggest that if you let people reach the decision on their own, or get their buy-in on a decision, they are much happier with it as a result.  Which, lest you think this still sounds suspiciously close to consensus, is actually all about the why.  Most people in your organization, given enough accurate information and context, will make good decisions.  If this is not the case for your organization, please stop reading and run away now…fast…faster, and don’t look back.

For those of you still reading, I’d like to give a little example.  I recently wanted a personal accommodation from my job.  It wasn’t something major, say like accommodation for a disability,  just a little flexibility I needed to make my very unique model of work-life balance flow.  I don’t have a boss.  I have a lot of people I work with, but not really the one person who decides yes or no on this kind of thing…so rather than ask one person, I had to go talk to, and get buy-in from, about half a dozen people.  In doing so, I realized that what I initially wanted wasn’t the best idea but something close to it could reasonably be worked out.  Had I had a boss such that I could have gone and asked one person I would have gotten a “yeah, no, not so much, maaaybe this other thing.” I would have been totally bummed out.  Instead, I had the opportunity to gather a lot of input, tell and retell my want until I’d distilled what it was I was actually after, and formulate a solution that worked (for me, for my company, and for my family).  Because I, rather then my boss, was the source of that solution, I am happy with it (in fact I am supper excited about the flexibility I get).

I bet you can think of an example too…was there ever a time when you told someone about your experience and they didn’t believe you?  But maybe it happened to them later and suddenly they understood?  When people own the process they believe (in) the results.  What this means to organizations and relationships, kinky or otherwise, is that it is no longer enough to depend on your clout to get a decision implemented.  It’s not enough to tell people Safe Sane and Consensual is the way to go any more than it is enough to tell people that they must bottom before they can top.  You have to bring people on the journey, explain the why, and work toward a joint solution.

But wait, oh no!  What if they pick the wrong solution?!  Well, first, rest assured that if they have gone on the journey, worked with you to identify the various needs and stakeholders, listened to input and still reached the “wrong” conclusion, they probably wouldn’t have taken the directive either.  Then, practice allowing people to tell their own story, and find out their why.  What is the basis for their decision, and is it the same as the basis for yours?  The best negotiation involves each party flexing on something that is not important to them but is important to the other person.

To build agreements you need to:

Define the problem space – remember this does not have to be an agreement to end all agreements.  It’s ok to find interim or time bounded solutions and revisit later.  It is also advisable to address one concern at a time just as “can I work from the London office” different than “can I move to London next year*” so is “can we ensure to have more trans-inclusive messaging in this flier” different from “can we have trans-inclusive messaging, rebuild the bathrooms to be gender neutral, and offer a gender identity workshop to all new members?”

Chase down the why – until someone goes through the journey and understands why something matters from the ground up they won’t own the decision.  Similarly, finding out the real why behind a disagreement is one of the easiest ways to start plotting for a win-win solution.

Identify the stakeholders, and then dig a little deeper and find the ones you missed – sure, your community manager, the owner of the space you want to use and maybe the volunteer who shows up to everything is important, but dig a little deeper and ask over and over again who will be impacted by this decision and who can make it happen.  Getting them on board makes everything way easier.

At some point, make a decision, allocate the resources and do your thing – you can talk forever, at some point it’s time to do and you’ll know when you’re ready.


*No, I am not moving to London, I am not moving at all, don’t panic.

Written by kinkinexile

November 16, 2011 at 9:12 pm

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