In my writing group recently, I mentioned that I wanted to write about accommodation. One of our members asked what I meant, so I figured it would be a good idea to define the term I am using. According to Merriam Webster, accommodation is “the act of accommodating someone or something; the state of being accommodated; adaptation, adjustment,” which includes a sense of negotiation or compromise. It is often related to being considerate and/or agreeable, perhaps fed by generosity or fear of being rejected (or both). There is a fine line between accommodating to be agreeable and being a container for dissatisfaction because one has been too agreeable (see the blog on People Pleasing here).
Not being accommodating has costs: it suggests the person is not worthy of being considered and that their needs are not as important. Being unaccommodating can be expressed by blaming the other for difficulties in the relationship, pursuing one’s own wishes without consideration of the other’s interests, or insisting that one is right, while the other is wrong. Right and wrong are far places from which to attempt a compromise. To be accommodating requires some flexibility, but as in the case of being double-jointed, one can be too flexible. People who are too accommodating risk being hard to really know and/or taken advantage of. Being too flexible ultimately deforms the system.
Deforming the system?
An easy-to-see example of being too accommodating is when, rather than delegating, saying “no” or stating their objection, a person takes on, for instance, more work. Imagine a co-worker or supervisor asks them to take on extra work “because it is really busy and there’s a back-log”. Being agreeable, the person takes it on and figures out how to get it done. Seeing this, the supervisor or co-worker gets the impression that the person can handle the extra work on a regular or permanent basis. Their workload increases. At the next “busy” time, perhaps another request is made, and the worker again accepts, and again is able to complete the work. This continues until the person can no longer complete the work and goes out on sick leave or quits. The worker is then replaced by TWO people, because the workload has become too big for one. The worker, by being accommodating, by taking on extra work and not objecting or setting clear limits, has contributed to deforming the system and the supervisor has taken advantage of that deformation and, ultimately the person. It takes two to deform the system.
The same thing occurs in both intimate and more casual relationships. Maybe Person A regularly accommodates Person B, because it seems to Person A that the accommodations are small and/or that they don’t want Person B to be upset, troubled, or disrupted. For instance, they offer to make dinner, clean up their shared space, let a disagreement slide, or are usually the one to propose an activity. If it is a regular occurrence, Person B may not see the need to accommodate because they are the one being accommodated. The small accommodations can accumulate and become big. The system begins to be deformed by these accommodations as Person B sees them as the “way Person A is” and is very comfortable with them, because of course, it is Person B who is on the receiving end of Person A’s accommodations. It is easy to see how Person A’s resentments can grow and become toxic, causing injury, possibly fatal, to the relationship.
It is possible that Person B doesn’t even recognize that Person A is accommodating them, because the things Person A thinks are important may not be those Person B holds dear. It is even possible that the accommodations have an opposite effect: one that makes Person B feel infantilised or in some way inadequate. For instance, if Person A is reliably doing the noticing (“You left your glasses on the table.” “Don’t forget your doctor’s appointment is today.” “I’ll make dinner tonight.” “It’s ok, I’ll do the dishes.”), Person B may feel that their autonomy is being impinged upon, that the accommodator feels that they are incapable of doing those tasks.
What if your way of showing your consideration, or accommodating, is different from their way?
What if your way of accommodating is different from the other person’s? It is then very possible that your accommodation is imperceptible to them. And what then? Depending on the context and quality of your relationship, you may want to spend some time determining what is meaningful to the other person. Using the 5 Love Languages (words of affirmation, “acts of service”, gifts, quality time, and physical touch), developed by Gary Chapman in the 1990s as a jumping off place, may be a good place to start. While most people “speak” several of these languages, many have a preferred one. If your friend or partner responds best to words of affirmation but your main language (and the one to which you respond) is “acts of service”, talking about your differences can lead to a better understanding of the other. By practicing listening deeply (and without interrupting) and observing the other person carefully, you may be able to discern which accommodations will be meaningful and worthwhile to your partner and do less unnoticed accommodating, bringing your relationship into a better balance. Reciprocity is key here. If only one person is making the effort, the relationship remains unbalanced.
If we think of accommodation as a posture, reciprocity of accommodation is the “counter posture”. When Person A accommodates Person B, and Person B also accommodates Person A, equity is established. When all members of a system are working at being agreeable and putting in effort to consider the other(s), the system can hold its intended shape.
In my next blog, I’ll talk about the importance of objecting and how to state that objection without blaming and in an effective way.