In my previous blog, I wrote about the importance of accommodation to any relationship, but that there are risks to being too accommodating. I also underlined that the reciprocity of accommodation is crucial. In Part 2, I offer advice about the importance of objecting and how to state that objection without blaming and in an effective way.
The importance of objecting
It is helpful to state an objection when one feels they are being too accommodating. The importance of objecting is to share your thoughts and feelings with the other person, and perhaps, to take it farther and set limits or make a counterproposal. What it is not, is an opportunity to be right at all costs. The person objecting may or may not be demonstrably “right”, but in most situations (i.e., those that are not about life and death decisions), being right is less important than being genuine. Being genuine allows those around you to truly get to know you. This requires a certain amount of humility and courage, as your genuine self may not always be accepted or appreciated. Thus, evaluate how important your objection is and what the cost of that objection might be.
Determining when to accommodate, or how to choose your objection (setting your limits)
Before accepting a request for accommodation, the person may set out clear limits to create the expectation that they can accept or reject the proposal, each time. Let’s return to the previous example, the one where the supervisor is overburdening the worker. Imagine if the worker says, “I can do it this time”, preparing their supervisor for a future, possibly different, decision. Or, if the worker cannot do it within the time limit proposed, the person can say, “I can do it, but not before Tuesday.”
There are often costs to setting limits; in the workforce, they may risk losing their job, although if they continue to overwork, they may put their health and well-being at risk. Each time we choose to object, a calculation of cost-benefit is required to stay in balance with one’s own values. Sometimes one value will take precedence over another. In the work example, the risk of losing the job (or not being considered for promotion) is higher if the job market is tight, or the need for an income is particularly pressing. This is compared to the cost to one’s well-being and sometimes, health. In interpersonal relationships, the cost is losing a friend or partner versus respect for oneself. Some choices are easier than others.
One way to determine whether your objection is worth any risk, is to ask three questions: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? If the answer to all three is yes, then it probably is worth whatever risk you have assessed, but as always, this is your decision. There may also be a question of timeliness: is now the right time to make this objection?
Stating your objection without blaming
Once you have decided to object, the next important step is to think about the way to state it. The steps of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed in the 1960s by Marshall Rosenberg to help people in having empathic discussions and disagreements, consists of four steps: observation of concrete facts without judgment, distinguishing the feelings elicited by the situation described, identifying the needs that are not being met in the situation and making a request for a concrete action in the hopes of having those needs met. So, the NVC conversation about work might go this way:
“I notice that when I take on extra work, I have to stay later, and my stress level is higher. I am also concerned that the impact on my job will be negative if I say no to taking on extra work, in that I might not be considered for advancement or possibly even lose my job. (Observation). This makes me feel insecure in my work and frustrated outside my work, because I have less time to spend on relaxing activities and I fall behind, or feel rushed on, tasks at home (Distinguishing Feelings). When I don’t have sufficient time to relax, and don’t rest as much as needed, I worry about long-term effects on my health and well-being (Unmet Needs). I would like to take on this project, but I would like it to be understood that although I am saying yes to this request, I may refuse other projects in the future so that I can stay healthy, happy and productive in my work. How do you feel about that? (Request)”
In more intimate relationships, with friends or intimate partners, the steps are the same. It could go like this:
“I notice that when we talk about my feelings, you turn the conversation to how you’re feeling and redirect your dissatisfaction in my direction (Observation). This makes me feel sad and frustrated because I feel lonely in my feelings (Distinguishing Feelings). I need to feel like I am seen and understood by my friend and that I have a right to my feelings and a place where they can be voiced (Unmet Needs). I wonder if you could listen without adding explanations for your behaviour and try to understand the situation from my point of view (Request).”
It is important that the person who is leading this conversation not expect every request to be granted. Of course, one hopes that it will be, but that is not always possible for a variety of reasons. Stating one’s objections has value in itself, even if the request is not fulfilled.
Being intentional about when and how one accommodates will help keep your relationships in balance. Noticing when and how one is accommodating, and whether that accommodation is appreciated, accepted neutrally or is in itself an encumbrance to the relationship, is a skill that can be learned. Paying attention to what is important to oneself and one’s partner(s) is the foundation of good relationships.