Power: Command v.s. Social

The label passive aggressive is oft ascribed to others but rarely subscribed to. When you deploy this label your accusing the other side of acting both with a hidden agenda and out of weakness. Note that the accusation of a hidden agenda is usually an indirect way of admitting that you haven’t a clue what the other side is on about. Notice also that the accusation of aggressive is a step toward admitting that the other side has power. Negotiating power. The exaggerated language is a failed attempt at self deprecating humor. Humor about the of the fear this realization has engendered.

A black and white model of negotiation might hold that it’s what you do when your not acting. In that characterization it becomes the opposite of acting, i.e. passive.
But real negotiation is work. The work of negotiating is the work of finding a common understanding. That search involves uncovering workable models of the other sides agendas.

One frame to shovel all this into is ‘coordination problems.’ Some coordination problems are solved by command control; which is typically viewed as masculine. Some coordination problems are solved by emergent behavior arising out of common cause (pool of common practice). This is often called community and typically viewed as feminine. Of course all the real systems and interesting systems are in the middle space between these two fantasy worlds.

Power is found in both these systems at their network hubs. Which is obvious in the tree topology of the command and control hierarchy; and even in the more complex variations on that where different dominions of authority (say: management, engineering, marketing, pr) are overlaid. Efficient, stagnant systems may have no conflicts to be resolved at these hubs; but that’s rare. The function of the nodes in the topology is to both execute the ritualized parts of behavior but more interestingly to resolve conflicts – i.e. to do the negotiation. In a hierarchy this puts the guys in the middle nodes into interesting role of bridging between two differing world views. Which opens them up to the accusation that they are two faced.

In the community coordination systems the network hubs draw all their power from their role as negotiators; though that’s rarely the term used. Social networking is another name used. The powerful role in these systems works off the energy created by the diversity of world views found across the hubs contacts. Moving information and resources around to create common cause. Telling engineering about what marketing has discovered. Connecting somebody in manufacturing with somebody in engineering that might know somebody who can resolve the problem de-jour. Like the middle manager in a command and control hierarchy the hub can be accused of unclear loyalties.

Of course this is all terribly over simplified. But the male-bossy-hierarchy model is more likely to see the female-chatty-networking as passive aggressive.

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