I was recently sent a copy of the tip sheet “To Equalize Power Among Us” prepared by Tools for Change (www.toolsforchange.org) and adapted from Breaking Old Patterns Weaving New Ties: Alliance Building by Margo Adair and Sharon Howell.
This sheet was designed to help raise people’s level of sensitivity to power imbalances. The sheet provides a series of questions regarding our actions in group situations. Our answers can help reveal whether our actions are allowing others to feel welcome and to make a contribution to decisions and actions or whether we are dominating work settings in a way that dis-empowers those around us.
These questions are important for librarians to consider in two contexts. The first is in our interactions with library users and community partners. When we conduct outreach on behalf of the library we may be acting in ways that allow the privilege that we have as a result of our positions to impact the dynamics of those interactions. A true partnership should be one of equals and that means ensuring that we allow our partners to have the same power to engage in the discussions as we have.
The second situation in which we should consider these questions is in our interactions with our staff or library teams. Supervisory or managerial positions give librarians a position of hierarchical power, but higher levels of creativity and engagement can be obtained in environments in which employees are empowered to contribute to – and even lead – initiatives in their workplaces. As team leaders we need to consider whether we are leading in a way that allows our team members to make a contribution or whether we are holding all of the power for ourselves. These questions are particularly important to consider when we try to build diverse teams.
Here is the list of questions to consider:
• Do I tend to always speak first, interrupt or take more than my share of space?
• Do I unilaterally set the agenda?
• Do I assume I’m more capable?
• Do I trivialize the experience of others?
• Do I challenge or question the tone, attitude or manner of others?
• Do I make assumptions about what someone is more “suited” for?
• Do I take responsibility for, think for, or speak for others?
• Do I assume an individual speaks for others from their group?
• Do I control the organization’s resources?
• Do I reduce difficulties to personality conflicts, ignoring history or power factors?
• Do I assume the root of a problem is misunderstanding or lack of information?
• Do I ask others to explain, prove, or justify themselves?
• Do I mimic other cultural traditions or religious practices?
• Do I expect to be treated as an individual outside of my group’s history?
• Do I ignore or minimize differences by emphasizing similarities?
• Do I equate all oppressions as equal?
• Do I expect others to be grateful?
• Do I defend mistakes by focusing on good intentions?
• Do I take things personally and miss the systemic aspects?
• Do I assume everyone has the same opinions I do?
• Do I assume that the visible reality is the only one operating?
• Do I expect “others” to educate me about their group’s history, or sensibilities?
• Do I assume someone is exceptional compared to the “average” person of their group?
• Do I always expect to be trusted?
Featured image by Bronson ABbott