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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Co-op Bonanza: That’s my milk!

mug_monizAbout six months ago, I moved into a cooperative community and I couldn’t be more thankful. Sure, I’m living with 16 people in one house and sometimes I camp at the library to get a breather, but all these eccentric people have taught me quite a bit.

Some of their lessons seem relatively simple: how to fry an egg, what goes/doesn’t go into compost and how to make beans (Hint: soak them. Forever.). However, while I’ve learned heaps of useful life skills like cooking, the most valuable lesson I believe I’ve learned is how to communicate.

It sounds somewhat simple. Communicating is just speaking, right? Saying what’s on your mind? It’s a little more than that, if you ask me. My favorite definition, courtesy of the ever-fantastic Oxford English Dictionary, is as follows: an “interchange of speech, conferring, discussion, debate; an instance of this, a conversation, a conference.” This definition manages to capture the interactive bit of communicating that I’ve come to know and respect. Living in a co-op has showed me that, in order to effectively communicate my feelings, needs and desires, I need to start a conversation and not just make orders or demands. Instead, I need to find a way to open the discussion.

Let me try to provide an example of communication as I’ve come to understand it.

Person A (we’ll call them…Claire) sees that Person B (Gerald) has been drinking the milk she bought a few days ago that Claire was saving for yummy breakfast granola with diced almonds and dried cranberries. If Claire were to ineffectively communicate her distress at this situation she might say something along the lines of, “YOU! Gerald! You drank my cream on top, organic, glass-bottled milk! You awful annoying person, you!” This is an accusatory statement that may cause Gerald to be defensive or retaliate. Claire’s accusation doesn’t inform Gerald of why it’s an issue, or help fix the problem in the future.

A more effective way of communicating Claire’s distress might be, “Gerald, I noticed you drank some of my milk. Could you ask to use some in the future? I hoped to have it with my breakfast.” This is a much more polite, less accusatory comment, and the question has the potential to open a discussion. Maybe Gerald was extra super hungry and is willing to remedy the situation somehow. Gerald could respond, “Sure. I was starving before class. I’ll buy you some more milk.”

In weekly house meetings at the Tri Co-ops, we encourage the second style of communication. It is applicable to something as simple as milk or as complex as our applicant process. Since discussing applicants requires talking about a specific person, we have to be careful not to gossip, be rude or make overly personal comments. Sometimes, when emotions get in the way and hinder communication, a facilitator can help smooth things out. The facilitator’s goal is to keep the conversation moving and productive so when someone gets a filibuster going, such as a long summary of something already said, the facilitator can step in, ask for clarification/encourage a conclusion and make sure the comments lead to further discussion. However, emotions and feelings are completely valid and can lead to great discussions, regardless of the potentially fragile topics they touch upon.

With that in mind, patience, open-mindedness, a willingness to compromise and honesty are the aspects of communication that I see as most important in the cooperative community that I’m a part of. Being honest with others leads to fewer arguments and better solutions because problems are addressed before they blow up, and all the issues are on the table at once. With everything out in the open like that, there are, admittedly, personal sensitivities that come up, so patience, compromise and understanding are valuable once open communication is established.

Now that I’ve established that communication is less about speaking and more about understanding and respect, I encourage you to give it a go. Try to use a “when…I feel…” statement, maybe just once. Yeah, it’s a tad cheesy but it could be something as simple as “when you suggest I do this, I feel like a kindergartener.”

Okay. Fair. I can accept that.

Cry over spilled milk with ISABEL MONIZ at irmoniz@ucdavis.edu.

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