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LW - Trust develops gradually via making bids and setting boundaries by Richard Ngo

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Welcome to The Nonlinear Library, where we use Text-to-Speech software to convert the best writing from the Rationalist and EA communities into audio. This is: Trust develops gradually via making bids and setting boundaries, published by Richard Ngo on May 19, 2023 on LessWrong.
In my previous post, I talked through the process of identifying the fears underlying internal conflicts. In some cases, just listening to and understanding those scared parts is enough to make them feel better—just as, when venting to friends or partners, we often primarily want to be heard rather than helped. In other cases, though, parts may have more persistent worries—in particular, about being coerced by other parts. The opposite of coercion is trust: letting another agent do as they wish, without trying to control their behavior, because you believe that they’ll take your interests into account. How can we build trust between different parts of ourselves?
I’ll start by talking about how to cultivate trust between different people, since we already have many intuitions about how that works; and then apply those ideas to the task of cultivating self-trust. Although it's tempting to think of trust in terms of grand gestures and big sacrifices, it typically requires many small interactions over time to build trust in a way that all the different parts of both people are comfortable with. I’ll focus on two types of interactions: making bids and setting boundaries.
By “making bids” I mean doing something which invites a response from the other person, where a positive response would bring you closer together. Sometimes bids are explicit, like asking somebody out on a date. But far more often they’re implicit—perhaps greeting someone more warmly than usual, or dropping a hint that your birthday is coming up. One reason that people make their bids subtle and ambiguous is because they’re scared of the bid being rejected, and subtle bids can be rejected gently by pretending to not notice them. Another is that many outcomes (e.g. being given a birthday present) feel more meaningful when you haven't asked for them directly. Some more examples of bids that are optimized for ambiguity:
Teenagers on a first date, with one subtly pressing their arm against the other person’s, trying to gauge if they press back.
Telling your parents about your latest achievements, in the hope that they’ll express pride.
Making snarky comments about your spouse being messy, in the hope that they’ll start being more proactive in taking care of your preferences.
Asking to “grab a coffee” with someone, but trying to leave ambiguous whether you’re thinking of it as a date.
Of course, the downside of making ambiguous bids is that the other person often doesn't notice that you're making a bid for connection—or, worse, interprets the bid itself as a rejection. As in the example above, a complaint about messiness is a kind of bid for care, but one which often creates anger rather than connection. So overcoming the fear of expressing bids directly is a crucial skill. Even when making a bid explicit renders the response less meaningful (like directly asking your parents whether they're proud of you), you can often get the best of both worlds by telling them explicitly about the emotion underneath the bid (e.g. that you often feel judged by them), rather than the bid itself .
There's a third major reason we make ambiguous bids, though. The more direct our bids, the more pressure recipients feel to accept them—and it’s scary to think that they might accept but resent us for asking. The best way to avoid that is to be genuinely unafraid of the bid being turned down, in a way that the recipient can read from your voice and demeanor. Of course, you can’t just decide to not be scared—but the more explicit bids you make, the easier it is to learn that rejection isn’t the end of the world. In the meantime, you can give the other person alternative options when making the bid, or tell them expli...