Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 40: Do we need a new rule?

February 16, 2021 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 40: Do we need a new rule?
Chapters
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 40: Do we need a new rule?
Feb 16, 2021
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"If you're using a rule to avoid vulnerability, then you're using a rule in a way that gets in the way of relationship."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"If you're using a rule to avoid vulnerability, then you're using a rule in a way that gets in the way of relationship."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Karen:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Paul:

I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

And I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

Each episode, we start with a question and we see where it takes us. This week's question is, "Do we need a new rule?"

Karen:

I have seen so many groups and individuals within groups that when faced with a challenge or a problem, say, "Well, we need a policy or a rule. We need to all talk about what we think should be, and then we should write up a policy about it. And that will solve our problem." And so that's really the case that I think we're addressing here. And I think that probably where we want to start and I'll toss it to you, Paul but I think we want to start with what rules do and what they don't do.

Paul:

So one of the things that rules do is they give us a sense that we are behaving impartially and fairly. If we can point to a rule as an explanation for a behavior, or a custom, or a thing that we're going to do, then we can say, "Okay, we have a rule about this, and so it's not any individual saying that you can or can't do this, it's the rules that are saying that you can't do this." Now, that is not necessarily the most kind reading of why we make rules, but it is the thing that rules do for us. They allow us to distance ourselves from the particulars of a situation. And that can sometimes be really useful. Rules are very useful when we start to notice patterns that are recurring, that show up again and again. And so it is handy for us to have pre-decided what we're going to do in situations that we know are going to come up. So that is one thing that rules do, they allow us to extract ourselves from the particulars of a situation and generalize. And sometimes that is useful. And sometimes we would like to believe it's useful.

Karen:

And I think it's useful especially when we aren't in relational spaces. Like I'm really glad there's a rule that everybody drives on the right hand side of the road. I don't really want to stop and negotiate that. I feel the same way about airports and the way you navigate airports. Like we all know what we're supposed to do, we know we go get in the security line first. We have that procedure or that rule. And and we all know what's expected of us. And we can work in these really, really large groups without having to try to have a relationship with everybody, which is clearly ridiculous in those cases. So I think that's where that shared expectation and that's kind of the other frame I use, I don't think you use those words, but for what you're saying of, we all collectively have a shared expectation of each other, it's clearly communicated, and if I'm not sure, I can go look in the rulebook, and I know what to do. And that's very reassuring and helpful. What rules don't do is help us with interpersonal disagreements, conflicts, feelings, and that sort of thing.

Paul:

Yeah, the idea that rules help us function in the absence of relationship, points to the thing that they don't do very well, which is often help us function in the presence of relationship. They don't necessarily bolster relationship. There can be some exceptions around that, but in general, we often turn to and appeal to authority and appeal to the rules when we fall out of relationship, when relationship isn't working well. And it doesn't necessarily strengthen the relationship between us when we do that. In fact, kind of by definition, we're saying, I'm going to value the truth that is embedded in this rule more than I value the relationship we have between us, when I appeal to that. And so that's one of the things that that appealing to rules and making rules does. We often make a rule because we are unwilling to engage in the difficult relational work of resolving it interpersonally.

Karen:

Yeah, and I want to point to that "the truth of the rule," and be clear that that's my truth of how I'm interpreting the rule. It is not a shared truth of the rule. And the reality is that if amongst us I'm doing a thing that I think is a reasonable and appropriate thing, being told that there's a rule that says I'm not allowed to isn't going to make me feel better usually about being told not to do And particularly if I'm being told not to do it in, for example, a "you don't have any say about this, you are compelled." And it really won't matter how nice that is. I can think of a situation, I'd just moved into a new community that was specifically designed to be strong relationships. And we'd been there not very long and, a very friendly sweet neighbor drops by to very helpfully tell me that my son riding his bike in the parking lot was absolutely not allowed. And I should know this. And she meant it completely nicely. But you don't get to tell me what my kid can and can't do. That's going to get any parent riled. And, and this is a place where, "Well, we're just relying on the rules," really gets in the way of what the relationship is. And if she had come to me instead and said, "You know, wow, I feel less comfortable parking in the parking lot when there are kids on bikes. And you know, so we've kind of had this agreement, and I know you just got here." That enters it into a relational, having a dialogue. It's an entirely different conversation.

Paul:

The key there is that by talking about the rules, we don't have to talk about our own feelings. We don't have to talk about our own needs, we don't have to be vulnerable in that way. We can instead just say, "Well, this is what the rule is," and we don't have to make it personal. And so that's actually I think, the key to when we talk about how we're not dealing with these issues in a relational way, what we really mean is that we don't have to get real with each other as people. I can say, "Well, you shouldn't do this because there's a rule." I don't have to reveal anything about myself, or how I feel about it. And it's usually cover, because I'm not going to bring up that it's against the rules, unless it has a personal impact on me. And so there's a degree to which it's inauthentic.

Karen:

Yeah, and the other piece, in addition to I don't have to reveal what it means to me, I don't have to be interested in why you're breaking the rule. I don't have to be curious or wonder what it means to you. Both sides of that carry vulnerability with them. Which is as we have said before that vulnerability is the price of meaningful, connected relationship, it just is part of the deal. If you're if you're using a rule to avoid the vulnerability, then you're using a rule in a way that gets in the way of relationship.

Paul:

So one of the things I want to steer a little bit towards is, when do we need a new rule? When can rules actually help us steer towards vulnerability and relationship? And that I think that's kind of a litmus test around it. I've worked in groups before where one of the sort of guidelines about creating rules and policies was "Don't scar on the first cut." The first time something goes wrong, don't make a rule about it. It just happened. We don't know if it's a systemic issue. We don't know if it's likely to happen again. If it's not, there's no point in creating a rule for it. But there are times where we notice in groups that our natural tendencies for those individuals is working against what we actually want relationally. For example, I will sometimes do workshops about conflict with groups, which involves all the people in the group, sort of understanding what their natural response to conflict is. So it might be that this is a group where everyone's natural response when things get difficult is to go inward and to withdraw, to avoid, to stonewall. So in those groups, they will sometimes make an agreement I hesitate maybe to call it a rule, but maybe it is about how they want to be when things get difficult that's counter to their normal instincts, because they believe that following such a principle to lean into that, to say, "Actually, we we want to name when we notice that we're avoiding conflict, when we're moving away from it, because we think that will actually help us to engage better." Those kinds of rules, I find are useful for groups, because they're breaking their normal patterns that allow them to move more towards the goal that they have for themselves in a relational space.

Karen:

I'd agree and I think another way you can distinguish is if your inclination is to enforce a rule that suggests that you're not using it relationally. There's a reaso that "force" is part of the w rd "enforcement." I think that i you are thinking, "Well, we eed this rule so that I can ake somebody else do something hat they otherwise wouldn't do." Or "I'm going to use the rule t make somebody do something the otherwise wouldn't do." That s going to cost the relationshi . There's going to be a relation l price to pay for enforceme t always. Now that ma be worthwhile. You know, again if we're in the space o no relationship speeding tic ets, we think it's probably wort it, because there's ot a relationship to damage. I m not I'm not trying to c nnect with the police officer. But if you're wanting to hav a relationship, think car fully about the costs to the rel tionship of enforcement. And mos of the time, I'm going to say if the reason you want to rul is so that you can enforce it, you probably don't.

Paul:

I think what we're really saying through all of this is be aware of the impact and the ntersection between rules and elationship. Recognize ther are times when there is no rela ionship, we're in a purely tran actional space. Rules are act ally really great for cre ting expectations around tha . That when we start to move int that more relational space, par icularly when we start to thi k about enforcement, we need to otice the cost that rules can have on relationship. Foc sing on those guidelines may e rules that will actually h lp us to create relationship, o connect better, instead of hose that allow us to avoid eing vulnerable and talking bout the sort of personal spects of it.

Karen:

I think that's gonna do i for us today. Until next time, 'm Karen Gimn

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis. And this has been Employing Differences