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A covert power move as a resolution tactic: covert power moves as high-quality approaches

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Resolving a covert power move with another covert power move

Quick background:

A businesswoman I've been working with has shown a pattern of behavior of pulling covert power moves.

Our cleaning company takes care of the cleanings for her Airbnb. And, unfortunately, one of her guests left the property in very poor condition after one of their stays.

On top of that, she doesn't keep enough laundry for us to simply replace the dirty ones with new linens that are already ready and waiting, so we have to make more trips to the laundromat to get the minimal amount of laundry she has ready before her next guests check in.

That's why, recently, she sent me this email:

  • "Thanks so much for explaining!" (covert power move): a power-taking sentence that implies I am indeed going to “explain it to her”. It robs me of my power to refuse to explain.
  • "I appreciate it." (covert judge power move): an indirect way of tasking me with explaining. She appreciates me giving her an explanation (I make her happy, positive form of judge) and, on the other hand, it also implies that she will be displeased if I don't (negative judge). (See "I greatly appreciate your response" covert judge power move.)

Resolution: covert power move back, but remain professional

Here was my response:

  • "Your patience is even more appreciated, you're on my list of priorities, yet that list is long :).": all credit to Stef for coming up with this one, it's an indirect way of drawing attention to the power move and drawing boundaries. I appreciate her patience (she makes me happy, positive form of judge) and, on the other hand, it also implies that I will be displeased if she isn't (negative judge).
  • "Our main focus as your cleaning company is to focus on the cleaning, not necessarily the inventory levels.": task rejecting and something of a "fair value exchange" statement, she was repeatedly tasking us with making sure her inventory levels are at an optimal capacity, which falls outside the scope of our responsibilities (we're her cleaners, not her co-hosts). In addition to that, she was giving no value in return to make up for our compliance and accommodating value-giving.
  • "Thank you for understanding.": a power-taking (stock) sentence that implies she is indeed going to “understand me”. It robs her of her power to refuse to "understand".

This case study is open for feedback below on whether or not you think this approach is more on the high-quality or low-quality side.

In my opinion, the "thank you for understanding" might have been a bit overkill given that it also robs her of her right to express her feelings, which can lead to a breakdown in communication and — if too many repressed feelings build up — a breakdown in the (business) relationship.

But, I opted to go for it anyway because she's made a habit of saying "thank you" after giving tasks (and has done so after nearly every one).

She means no harm, of course (and probably thinks it's value-giving), but that leads her to do it even when it's inappropriate and power-taking.

So, to sub-communicate that it's not always OK, I used it once here and moved on. Now, lately, she's been more careful to get my agreement/compliance before saying "thank you" and it's led to a better working relationship for both of us.

Open to reading your thoughts below.

Alex, Mats G and Bel have reacted to this post.
AlexMats GBel

Hello Ali,

Yes there were some power moves.

However, I have a different view of this whole interaction.

Customer-service provider implies certain power dynamics whereby the service provider is supposed to answer customers' inquiries

As the customer, it's more OK to expect a reply and explanation from the service provider.

Of course, it can still be annoying and disempowering depending on how customers go about it, so "firing your customer" is always an option for some cases. TPM did it publicly on this very forum more than once.

However, within normal boundaries, it's probably a pale yellow-level.

That very customer-service provider makes those power moves less disempowering.

The customer is very collaborative

She seems very collaborative to me.

Notice that she asks a question and then provides her own answer -giving you a very easy and quick way to answer: a simple "yes"-.

She does exactly what we ask forum members to do here: provide their own answers first.

She complains about the laundry prices, yet also protects you from having to defend or apologize by adding "totally get it though", quite cool.

Finally, she proposes a solution BUT she ASKS you if that will reduce the price.
Also quite cool and empowering for you, now you call the shots and tell her IF the price would decrease -or you can propose other solutions, if you want-.

Makes sense?

Ali Scarlett, Alex and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettAlexBelleaderoffun
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Yes, it does, thank you for your input, Lucio. And, for the added analysis (very helpful!).

To be clear, my view isn't that she was being "uncool" or "unfriendly", it's that her power moves oftentimes felt unneeded and annoying.

I agree with you that customer service power dynamics are different from normal socialization power dynamics. That's why the question of this thread is more about whether or not it's a high-quality approach to resolve the customer's power moves (with more power moves), or if it's a higher-quality move to simply ignore them all as the service provider.

If you have any thoughts on that (as well as anyone else who wants to join in), feel free to share. And, again, thank you for sharing your perspective, it's very insightful for me.

P.S.:

No pressure to respond, Lucio, I understand that, in any case, whether or not it's wise to resolve a power move depends on where it falls on the traffic light scale. So, it can vary from situation to situation. And, in this particular case, it may not have been necessary because it seems that her power moves fell on the yellow level.

OK.

In my opinion, "thank you for your understanding" was OK if you preferred to end it there (rather than having a dialogue with her on how to provider a better or bigger service).

But the first one was unnecessary.

And of course, as always, it's my opinion as an outsider, you know the relationship better than I do.

Ali Scarlett, Mats G and Bel have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettMats GBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Ali Scarlett on March 22, 2022, 11:33 am

...the question of this thread is more about whether or not it's a high-quality approach to resolve the customer's power moves (with more power moves), or if it's a higher-quality move to simply ignore them all as the service provider.

I think it depends on your previous interactions. If she was really constantly annoying it may make sense to put the foot down every once in a while to show you understand what she is doing.

If it was only once, maybe it would be best to let it slide/ignore.

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and Mats G have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettMats G

Update:

To respond to Bel, it was more than only once (see an example here), and this person continued to engage in value-taking behavior even after the exchange above.

The most recent one that made me decide it was time for assertiveness was this one:

A day goes by without so much as a "thank you". And yet, she was still continuing conversations about other things she wanted in our other chat (the group chat).

So, finally, I address it directly:

As a result, she's been careful to avoid some of her past, value-taking behavior and, so far, it's made our relationship better off.

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Lucio Buffalmano, John Freeman and 3 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn FreemanAlexMats GBel

That’s awesome Ali!

I didn’t even think it was possible to say something like you did (meaning, communicating that something the other person says feels disrespectful and that you would prefer some other way).

I guess my unconscious belief that this was impossible derives, again, from my tendency to interpret this behavior as a malicious move: in my past experience, talking clearly only served to have malicious actors do worse (because they would understand they got to me).

So your post is really helpful also to reframe my beliefs.

Edit: I have to add though that her behavior feels very strange. Who in the earth would answer something like that by saying “Liked it!”.

I read the other thread you mention and she used that move also in the past. It seems her default stance is to adopt a judge role with everything you say. Because she “liked” it.

Also, when she says “I will try my best” after what you said she appears dismissive. I remember the same example on Lucio’s blog from a person who was disrespectful after he put her in place.

Who on earth would say that? A normal person would apologize and say something like, “you are right, sorry”.

Also when she says “I appreciate you letting me know”, she is basically reframing your critique as you doing a favor to her.

In other words, it seems like she doesn’t understand how her behavior impacts others, and she is using your interaction to learn it, and also at the same time interested in always coming out on top. It’s like you are teaching her how to better behave socially.

Second Edit: I see now from the other thread that Matthew in the past defined her way of speaking as “confusing and weird”, just like I did now.

This to me spells trouble. Makes me think your gut feeling that this woman is a pain in the neck was totally correct. And I also suspect she may try to regain her “superior” posture in other ways in the future. I would keep the guard up here.

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and John Freeman have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettJohn Freeman

Nice Ali.

I like the assertive statement.

To add on what Bel said, I interpreted the "liked and quote" as an automated feature of the chatting software.
If that's not the case, it would indeed be a bit "weird".

But I still wouldn't consider that an obvious red flag, more like a quirk.

Same as Bel, what I didn't like is the "I will try my best".
It's a covert power that refuses to concede her mistake and that leaves the power fully in her corner.

She will "try", not she "will".
Also implied is that she has the ability to fail and keep on behaving in a way that is not very respectful and/or fair -something that should be off the table-.

I might have replied there something like:

Where there is a will there is a way.
So I trust you can do it.

And albeit I often caution against wink emojis, this is a time where I might have gone for a wink.

That being said, albeit this might not yet be the 100% win that ends the power moves and solves everything (but it also might, keep us updated), it's still a HUGE step forward in the relationship.
So well done and kudos to you.

Ali Scarlett, John Freeman and Bel have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on April 24, 2022, 5:05 pm

To add on what Bel said, I interpreted the "liked and quote" as an automated feature of the chatting software.
If that's not the case, it would indeed be a bit "weird".

Yes, to my knowledge, it's an automated feature.

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on April 24, 2022, 5:05 pm

Same as Bel, what I didn't like is the "I will try my best".
It's a covert power move that refuses to concede her mistake and that leaves the power fully in her corner.

She will "try", not she "will".
Also implied is that she has the ability to fail and keep on behaving in a way that is not very respectful and/or fair -something that should be off the table-.

I might have replied there something like:

Where there is a will there is a way.
So I trust you can do it.

And albeit I often caution against wink emojis, this is a time where I might have gone for a wink.

Agreed.

When I saw the power move, my response was to ignore it and continue conversations over in the group chat.

I highlighted her response in green above though because:

  • My father (who is the head of the company) wanted me to refrain from saying anything to her because he was afraid we'd lose her as a client if we did: so, compared to her walking away and bearing the responsibility of having secretly gone against my father's wishes, this was a fairly green outcome to me.
  • Her behavior did, in fact, change positively after my message: which has improved our relationship noticeably to me as well.
  • I think she gets more leeway here because customer service power dynamics are different from standard/typical socialization power dynamics: which was your point above, Lucio, but I could be wrong on this.

Still, because it's a power move, I did think about highlighting it in yellow.

When she said, "I'll try", I thought to myself, "What do you mean you'll 'try'? I clearly said that this will affect our relationship if you don't. So, either you will or you won't, there's no 'trying' here if you actually care about making this work."

Even so, I wanted to wait and see if she'd continue doing more value-taking behavior after this message before writing her off in my head as a "problem client". And, so far, her behavior has indeed changed.

To Bel, yes, she's still a long shot from being the kind of person who could help facilitate a better, win-win relationship because of her behavior (of which cases like this are only one of a seemingly growing list of examples). And, if I had to choose between another her or a higher-quality individual who uses power dynamics more eagle-like, it'd be an easy choice.

Lucio Buffalmano and Bel have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoBel
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on April 24, 2022, 5:05 pm

(...)

...albeit this might not yet be the 100% win that ends the power moves and solves everything (but it also might, keep us updated), it's still a HUGE step forward in the relationship.

(...)

Well, here's that update.

On December 13 of last year, my father (the company head) introduced me to L using my full name:

Personally, I prefer to go by "Ali". So, I make sure to let her know that when continuing the intro:

She completely ignores it — which is OK, if she respects my name preference moving forward.

Unfortunately, she doesn't.

The first offense:

Again, she completely ignores it.

Once again, that's OK, as long as she gets the message and changes tact.

But, she doesn't.

The second time:

By now, this is the third time I've had to say it. So, it's good that she apologizes and things start to look like it's headed in a good direction from here.

That is, until she does it again and I have to do a little more to stop this behavior now.

The turn-around when they re-adapt to your assertiveness

This is what unfolds:

And, in her most recent email, this is what I notice:

I respond with assertiveness here as well:

And, she responds with more respect:

I appreciate her effort in respecting my boundaries and it's interesting how she seems to be learning how to be a better communicator (and, maybe, overall social strategist) through my assertiveness.

Feel free to let me know what you think below.

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Lucio BuffalmanoBel
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