posttitle = NNTD pith instructions exploration titleClass =title-long len =34

NNTD pith instructions exploration

I keep mentioning this “Non-Naive Trust Dance” framework I’ve discovered/invented but I haven’t yet published a proper introduction to it (despite many half-finished drafts)—update: here’s one! A friend of mine recently wrote in a group chat:

Would/could you write pith instructions for NNTD? I’m curious but haven’t dived in, and would be more likely to if I could get a more concentrated sense of the flavor of it.

For those not familiar with the term “pith instructions”, it refers to condensed, direct, pithy core instructions, often for a meditation practice. Before I had the chance to reply, another friend linked my yearly review blog post 2020: Free to Dance, and the first friend replied:

Yeah that’s helpful! It definitely gets at the problem statement. I still feel like I’m missing something about what actually goes into doing NNTD.

It can be hard to give quick general instructions for various reasons, but fortunately I already had a tweet that I wrote in response to a prompt from my friend Romeo:

Challenge: make an elevator pitch for your current theory of healthy human relationships.

Hard mode: don’t reference existing popular theories or merely reword one of them.

@RomeoStevens76 on twitter

Here, with some tiny edits, is the elevator pitch I came up with for the NNTD (which is definitely a theory of healthy human relationships!)

  • respect that there are ways in which you can’t trust each other
    • and gently inquire into why that is
    • not trying to change behavior directly
  • trusting that new more workable behavior will emerge
    • when you can see why it makes sense to be doing what you’re doing
    • and see its impacts on others

I shared that in the group chat and offered to elaborate on anything listed in [[core principles of the [[NNTD]]]] and a discussion ensued between me and my friend. And so we hereby continue a trend of blog posts composed of lightly edited conversations, although this one is more theory than practice.

Friend: Ooh, this elevator pitch is really good! Interesting that there’s a meta-trust element too, in the process itself. I needed something like that, as opposed to the core principles page, which feels too big/complicated/rabbit-holey. It’s just very instantly practical.

Malcolm: what’s fascinating is that it does seem like there’s just one core idea in some sense, and if you get it then the ~20 ~principles ~immediately fall out as obvious. (Or at least, that’s been my experience—it may not generalize to others, if for instance I had the other 99 puzzle pieces already.)

F: For context: I’ve got a pile of new work relationships as a consequence of this reorg, and a couple of my new folks clearly don’t trust me yet. And reading that first line—”respect that there are ways in which you can’t trust each other”—just prompted me to notice how I’m trying to FIX that.

M: Aha! Yes, then yeah, the most important thing to do is to honor that they don’t trust you, and that it would be naive for them to trust you. Perfect. That’s the only sane place from which you can begin to build trust—otherwise you’re ummm… fighting the laws of trust-physics.

F: So I should try accepting/exploring the lack of trust.

M: Exactly.

Self-trust is the basis of effective trust-dancing

M: If you can stay really grounded in the ways in which you trust yourself and you know others trust you, and be clear that those are not in question (although you may have accidentally falsely generalized their implications a bit too broadly) then you’ll have a lot more space to consider others’ concerns. In other words, to the extent that you’re having trouble respecting & honoring that someone else doesn’t trust you, it’s probably because you fear losing touch with your own self-trust, so focus on honoring yourself.

This is probably where the urge to fix comes from, and why it feels so urgent—if it were just a matter of building trust, it would feel more obvious that it makes sense to go at the optimal pace for that. There could be other schemas that would generate this urgent need to fix though, such as “if people don’t trust me, they don’t respect me [and that’s very bad because…]”

F: Yep, this urgency definitely ties to a questioning of my own trust in myself — “can I even do this” / “what do I even bring here” / “I don’t even know what I don’t know” — and feeling time pressure to figure it out.

M: Yup, totally. There’s also a subtle piece here where with respect to things that aren’t just about you but are about interacting with them specifically… ideally you can actually hold a space of genuine not-knowing about whether you might hurt them that they don’t trust they won’t be hurt. This could be either:

  • because you do something that lands as a hurt to them in a way that surprises you because you have different buckets, or
  • because their patterns or projections or whatever cause you to behave in ways that you recognize as hurtful but would not ordinarily behave, and you didn’t expect to hurt them because you didn’t expect to end up in this situation but they kinda did expect to be hurt because this is the usual way they get hurt

So there’s a kind of humility there, rather than “of course I would never hurt you!” which is fundamentally equivalent to the fixing energy in that it’s trying to cause trust to exist without building it. Like it’s one thing to say “I would be very surprised if that happened” but also you might not actually really know what the “that” is that they’re afraid of—their concern might, under the surface, be essentially a fear that their attachment wounds will get poked in a way they don’t know how to deal with, and like, can you really be so sure that won’t happen? (See Dream Mashups for more on this.)

(I’m still workshopping the language here. Instead of “hurt them” I originally wrote “betray them” but it has a complex relationship with trust, and “wrong them” also would fit but I would need another whole write-up to explain what “wronging” means out in Rumi’s field out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing. One could also just say “trespass some boundary”, particularly “in a way that can’t easily be talked about”.)

Respecting distrust helps build trust

M: sometimes it can be really valuable to speak to the lack of trust, especially from that grounded & honoring+respectful place.

It’s easiest when the other person has explicitly voiced their distrust, because then you can directly speak to it without reifying it into existence or seeming like a projection or fixation or whatever. Sometimes you can get there with a few steps though, by reflective-listening-paraphrasing some concern with “it sounds like you don’t trust that [I’m going to] X [if you don’t Y]” and then if that lands you can (if grounded enough) say “okay, well, good to know! I’m not going to ask you to trust that if it would be naive!” or “okay. I respect that you don’t trust that. Glad you’re listening to yourself.”

And sometimes there might be a thing you can do right in that moment that will already shift the trust landscape (sometimes this comment itself does so, because of how strongly it validates the other person’s perspective) or there might be a thing that needs to gradually play out over time or something.

F: what comes to mind is “I don’t expect you to trust me yet”

M: I would say “I don’t expect you to trust me until you’ve had whatever experience you need to trust me” or something like that, to make it clear it’s not just like, a time/familiarity thing, but actual learning etc. There might be ways to phrase that that are more or less workable for a given situation.

Some of the boilerplate NNTD language at present is sort of unusually verbose and loopy… I think in some cases there are ways to shorten it (especially if you’re embodying a stance that validates everyone’s perspective) but in other cases the relevant perspective-taking involved is actually 2-4 layers deep and needs to somehow be acknowledged as such. People can model that depth more than they’re often given credit for.

F: Mmmhmm. These are not people who tend to talk a lot about their inner process.

M: Yeah. And maybe the way to phrase it isn’t even about “trust” so much as “what you expect me to do” or something—some phrasing that feels more external

F: Trust is a powerful word thought. Hmmmm. You know, I should start with the self-trust aspect, so I’m coming from a stronger root.

M: That makes deep to me! You might find my resources on Internal Trust-Dancing useful for this!

  1. Internal Trust Dancing case study: EA & relaxation
  2. Internal Trust Dancing case study: scheduling & cancelling dates

(I’d also recommend those case studies, particularly the 2nd one, as demonstrations of some of the moves I’m talking about here around respecting distrust. Respecting your own distrust when another part of you feels differently is a vital part of developing integrated self-trust.)

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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