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An interaction with a formally higher-status person

Hi everyone.

Stemming from my post here, and Lucio's post on it, I think this may warrant being re-told and re-examined in more depth.

I recently went to vote at the local lawyers' bar election.

Usually at these events the number of people who vote is very low compared to the total number of lawyers. And candidates for the posts are present to "get seen" and talk with electors.

In-person interaction

While in line, I recognize a lawyer (who was running as candidate for a post) whom I had met years ago at a seminar where he was teaching. Let's call him Attorney Marshall.

I approach him and this ensues:

Me: Attorney Marshall! We met at the yearly seminar on XWZ defense.

Marshall: Thank you! What's your name?

Me: I'm Bel.

Marshall: Thank you Bel! Can I give you a leaflet?

Me: Yes, of course. And can I speak to you for a moment after I voted?

Marshall: Of course. At your disposal.

I voted, got out and went to him.

While talking to him, I consciously interrogated myself on whether it would be better to speak with him before or after voting, and I thought doing it "before" would have given the whole thing an aura of "do what I ask or I won't vote you" that would be better avoided.

So I chose to speak with him after voting.

Me: So can we speak for a moment?

Marshall: Of course.

Me: It's really a silly thing. About the prorogation of the law that [I describe the matter].

Marshall: Ah, so it's a matter of legislation. So it's not something the local bar can address, but something to be dealt with at national bar level. Maybe attorney X can help. It's going to be difficult, but maybe...

Let's do it like this. Here is my number, let's talk next week (as today I'm going to be here all day) and then we'll see what can be done.

Me: Thank you so much, you're really kind. (I touch him on the back of his elbow)

Marshall: (offers his hand, we shake hands) What's your name?

Me: I'm Bel.

Marshall: Bil?

Me: BEL.

Marshall: It's an uncommon name, so I'll recall it! Goodbye.

Me: Goodbye.

This was at end of the week.

Text interaction

I waited until next Thursday. I thought about calling him directly, but chose not to as I thought he may be busy and in any case he did not have my number.

So this is the text conversation that I started and ensued:

Me: Good eveving Counsellor Marshall, I am Bel

Me: First of all many congratulations for the election at the Bar of Lawyers of X.

Me: Can I disturb you on the phone for that thing I was speaking about with you in person on Friday?

Marshall: Hi Bel, first of all thanks a lot for the congratulations. This afternoon I'm still with some clients and don't know what time I'll be done, do you mind if we talk tomorrow maybe near [time X]?

Me: Absolutely not, thank you and talk tomorrow.

So I was interrogating myself on my "rapport breaking" by responding "absolutely not", and whether I should have answered "I do not mind", and this is Lucio's post on it:

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on January 25, 2023, 3:48 am

Yes for the rapport break, good call.

But if I got the dynamics right- IF!- I personally wouldn't have gone for either.

Tehre is an even bigger issue there.

It's the dynamic of who closes the convo and who (must) accept it.

Think about that as power dynamics first

  • He's higher power
  • You're in need of him (taking)

Then think of it as frames, as in minimizing VS expanding.

You want to minimize and, ideally, address both issues.

The word "problem" expands on those not-so-good dynamics.
Obviously, the problem can only be on YOUR end, and the fact that you even mention it opens that thread and raises the question: could it have been a problem for you?-.

Come to think of it, yes: because he's higher power, has something you want, and hence you may be taking in this exchange -and back to the basics: nobody wants a taker-.

The "absolutely do not mind" may make it even worse because it feels like a "switching the power tables" power move while it indirectly brings more attention to the fact that he's higher power and giving and that you're taking.
Of course you don't mind, because you have little leverage and you're in no position to do anything else even if you minded -so it comes "off" to a power aware person-.

I'd have gone for something like that:

Sure thing, I wish you a productive day!

I may have even skipped "speak tomorrow" or it may feel like you're posting up for him.


  • I should have skipped responding to the "do you mind" at all, as the frame was not conducive to a good interaction
  • re-mentioning the time proposed by another feels like being "in need" of "locking the time", and thus power down.

I also now take it, from Lucio's post, that interacting with a formally higher-status person entails a subtle "balancing act" of subcommunicating, at once, both recognizing the status difference and trying to minimize it and not thread-expand on it.

In the past, instead, I thought there could be no mistake done in even "deepening" the status difference.

Now that I "accepted the frame" I'm (more) power down. I think I'll still try to call him at the time he mentioned and try to recover on the phone.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

So I called him on the phone.

The call went like this (recalling it by heart, it's possible I'm paraphrasing or simplifying something):

Him: Hi Bel! How are you?

Me: Hi! Good, thank you. Is this a good moment?

Him: I just finished my first meeting at the bar council, a bit shaken but yeah.

Me: Otherwise we can...

Him: No no, it's a good moment.

Me: Ok, so as I was telling you I'm outside of the possibility of registering my practice as [...] by just some months.

Him: Have you seen the notice for the new exam for this has just come out yesterday?

Me: Has it?

Him: Yeah, just yesterday!

Me: That's nice. Unfortunately, the exam has requirements for participation that are very strict, X lawsuits in front of W court per each last year. I think only law practices going on for more than 50 years may have that!

Him: That's true.

Me: So the law allowing registration according to prior, less strict requirements, has been renewed year by year, but I'm still out by the possibility of acceding by mere months. I don't know if it's possible to do something to ask for a legislative renewal this year also, as it's currently in discussion in parliament.

Him: I'll tell you the truth: I don't know. I've just started this mandate and I don't know the powers and activities I have. It's going to take some days to get adjusted to this. I hope you appreciate me telling you things as they are.

Me: Yeah, of course. So I guess we say goodbye for now and then if it's possible to do anything...

Him: Yes, I'll maybe try to talk to someone more old than me here.

Me: Ok. Thank you and congratulations again for your election. Talk soon

Him: Perfect, let's talk in some time. Goodbye!

My take: while from a "result" point of view it seems I was not successful, he was cordial and seemed kind. So maybe I didn't handle this too badly. And in any case I got to speak on the phone and "made friends" with one of the new members of the local bar.

As always guys, if you see something I can improve (or that I outright botched), feel free to comment.

EDIT: I just checked the parliament discussion on the law renewal, and it seems the discussion is aimed on its own in the direction of renewing this particular law for another year, which is essentially what I was contacting this person for. Parliament amendments in this direction have been submitted and published, it seems, just yesterday evening. So it may be that my dialogue with this new bar member was not strictly necessary.

If the parliament discussion confirms the renewal, it may be good on my side to send a text or email to Attorney Marshall to mention this positive outcome, and then thank him anyway for his kindness and willingness to discuss.

Or, conversely, maybe it would be better to not say anything, let him "take the merit" of the renewal if he finds out, and then thank him as if it were true.

Or a third way I'm not seeing yet (eg maybe I should tell him right now to avoid him wasting energy on this...).

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

OK, so it seems better than I had originally thought since in his new post he was supposed to help and guide lawyers in his area, right?

If so, then confirming you'll call him tomorrow feels less like chasing.

The problem with the confirmation when you have no leverage and he has no duty is this:

  • He has to prioritize his work and must postpone you
  • You jump at his new date/time
  • He feels and thinks "shit, is he chasing me now like a rabid dog"?

That's all the truer if he has no obligation and there is no WIIFH.

But this case seems a bit different, also including you had some good rapport and interactions going in -plus, implied, that you had probably voted for him and, hence, already given-.

On this one here:

Him: I just finished my first meeting at the bar council, a bit shaken but yeah.
Me: Otherwise we can...

He was sharing his first time, and it seemed to be meaningful for him.
You may have wanted to touch on that, for example "oh cool, you didn't wait a single day to get started". Or maybe give him a chance to close the topic with a question such as "oh cool, was that challenging?"

Going forward I'd write him right away, thank him, and maybe propose a lunch/dinner on you if it makes sense for you and if it's good to deepen this relationship.

Ali Scarlett and Bel have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thank you so much Lucio,

I agree with all you say:

  • the "chasing power-down frame" in answering his "do you mind" question"
  • my "jumping on the offer"
  • the mistake of not having empathized with his saying it was his first time as a member of the bar.

And also the "honesty" choice in going forward, which makes sense given he has been honest as well.

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Lucio BuffalmanoAli Scarlett

Adding to this thread that the mistake of “jumping on the offer for a time to talk”, I think, was a mistake I used make frequently, as I didn’t understand the dynamics.

It seems so “natural” to answer someone who says “let’s talk tomorrow” with “ok, to tomorrow”.

But, thinking about it from a power perspective, it absolutely makes sense that one wants to leave things more “undefined” when the other postpones, and treat the offer for a specific time as “tentative” / not jump on it.

It subcommunicates freedom, understanding the game, the busyness of people, being higher power…

On the other hand, jumping at the offer subcommunicates being “starved for attention” and/or not having other options. Why “lock down” a call otherwise?

I think this principle may explain also social situations I used to run into before PU where I unwittingly may have led people to distance themselves due to feeling “pressured”.

Low power and insecurity (and this is one example) lead people to stay away and - keeping to the example - make it less likely that the other person may actually want to get in touch / answer the phone at the time he specified.

So this for me was a very very important takeaway.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano


I sent him this text:

Me: Good evening Attorney Marshall, it seems Parliament is amending the decree to renew the law we talked about.

Thank you so much for your courtesy and availability. I'd like to thank you by inviting you to lunch or dinner

His reply:

Him: Thank you a lot Bel, but it's certainly not my merit 😀

We'll surely see each other for a coffee ...

Have a good night

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Lucio Buffalmano

I'd have skipped the "I'd like to thank you with...".

One, because it wasn't really true, as he felt he had to point out.

And two:

Why take the "crude exchange" angle, when you can meet as a friend / colleague / cool person to know and spend some time with, which is always far superior to "only" exchanging favor?

Also skip "availability", so the frame is more that he replied because you're a good person to be in touch with, rather than a person that he was giving to.

Instead, go for:

Thank you so much for your courtesy. And happy to meet for lunch or dinner one of these days


Bel has reacted to this post.
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thank you Lucio,

it’s very helpful.

I’ll implement what you say from now on.

EDIT: it’s incredible how I read your posts and re-interpret them under my unconscious. I myself established a link between the thanks and the meet-up that wasn’t there.

Also I now realize the “offer to pay” is best left implied in these cases, and I see why some people did not really want to meet up in the past based on the “crude angle” thread-expansion on my side.

I’d have more to write about how well my parents taught me things, but now that I learned to keep some things for myself I’ll do just that. 🙂

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Hey Bel,

Yeah, I haven't re-read, but it's also possible that my original post may have been improperly written and suggested that (by mistake).

It's OK sometimes to say "lunch on me", but if we had to make a general rule, than maybe, among top high-value folks and "top players", better to leave out.

As for the parents, well... I think that it's not just you or even you and I.
If most of the folks in here had to stop at what our parents taught us, well... 🙂

The way I see it, it's a badge of honor having coming so far, and with further to go, despite our (past) environment.

And my apologies as I realize that my previous message was a bit too direct and "strong".

Bel has reacted to this post.
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?