Balancing Control and Decision-Making as a Service

I’ve touched on the spectrum between control-oriented and service-oriented dynamics before.  Dynamics based at their core in the active exertion of power, authority, and structure, enforcing rules, protocols, and routines, versus dynamics based on the idea of being useful, helpful, and completing tasks, chores, and assignments.   

There is no reason a dynamic can’t include all of those things—I know mine does—though it’s a useful distinction when talking about M/s philosophy and can have an influence on how some things get implemented.  And some dynamics do skew a lot more one way or the other.

However, there are some trade-offs to be made that fall under this spectrum, and here is a big one I see:

Decision-making.

A lot of s-types talk about wanting their M-type to decide everything for them.  Everything.  What they eat, when they eat it.  What they wear.  When they wake up, when they go to bed.

And a lot of s-types (including a lot of overlap) talk about wanting to be as useful as possible for their M-type.  Cooking, cleaning, managing a calendar, doing the shopping, making travel arrangements.

A lot of this is compatible, especially given just a little bit of compromise.  Say, I wear a uniform, and that doesn’t stop me from cooking dinner.  Now, if Mistress had wanted my uniform to be something too impractical to have me cook in, there would’ve had to be a trade-off.  But we went with something simple I can wear equally to volunteer at the library, go to my mom’s house, or attend a munch or play party.  That little line about keeping it neat means general permission to wear an apron when cooking, though.

But some parts of this are not necessarily going to be compatible.  It is unlikely you will give up all decision-making and remain equally useful, or that keeping the power to make too many decisions will give much of a feeling of being controlled.

The service of meal planning is not going to be compatible with very tight control over someone’s diet.  The secretarial task of making appointments is not going to happen easily with the s-type never being allowed to speak for their or the M-type’s time.  The s-type managing the shopping is not going to be any more convenient than the M-type doing it themselves with purchase-by-purchase financial control.

Now, there are still some things in between.

I do meal planning as a service, but there are loose limits on what I can do, like keeping dinner healthy, homemade, and protein-based most of the time.  I have to have it on the table at six o’clock and the table settings have to be done a certain way, and the kitchen has to be clean again by the time I go to bed.  But at the end of the day, I chose what we ate.  And for Mistress, not having to do the meal planning, shopping list-making, cooking, and associated tasks herself is well worth giving me the choice of what we eat.  Of course, she retains the power to tell me to change it if she wants to.

Besides the feeling of looser control, there can be other complications in handing some decision-making back to the s-type.  In a lot of the examples I gave, the M-type basically wants the decision made by the s-type to be the same decision they would have made themselves, or at least within certain guidelines (making that appointment at a time that works for them, for example), simply so they don’t have to make that phone call, that trip to the store, that meal plan, moreso than they want to hand off the decision itself.

This means the s-type has to learn what those preferences and guidelines are.  They might even be things the M-type doesn’t consciously know, themselves, to teach.  Things will be learned along the way by trial and error and observation and so on.

However, this learning process can lead to another trade-off:

The question of why.

There are a lot of mixed feelings out there about s-types asking why.  On the one hand, there’s the belief that the s-type should never ask why, that they just need to follow orders and the reasoning behind it is irrelevant because, “My M-type said so,” is a good enough reason to just do it.  And, if that’s the dynamic agreed to, so be it.  However, that may be best suited for the control-oriented.

Even in some very low protocol and loosely-structured service-oriented power dynamics, certain whys would be out of place.  The whys that aren’t a genuine question of trying to understand, but a way to argue, a way to say, “Convince me,” a way to stall, an opportunity to find a flaw in that reasoning, something that gives the implication that you won’t do the task without knowing why.

Those aren’t the whys I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the whys that become a practical matter to know when the M-type isn’t going to be constantly available in the future.  The whys that would let the s-type make smart substitutions or changes in a pinch, knowing the spirit of the law instead of looking at the suddenly unhelpful letter of it.  The way that a general knowledge of cooking will help you successfully swap an ingredient in a recipe when the last of something runs out, cut a step you correctly recognize as not necessary, or change a temperature and cook time to a different equivalent when dinner guests are stuck in traffic.  Rather than fail to realize that baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing, or that turning the oven that low will not get that meat up to temperature in the right amount of time, or anything else the recipe itself might not tell you how to modify in a conundrum.

Saying, “Always buy this specific brand of disinfectant spray,” is fine and good and if you want the s-type to unquestioningly buy that brand, then that can give you that control-oriented rush.

But… what about when you’re out of that spray, and you need more, and the store is out?

If your s-type has to call you to ask what to do now, that can continue that little control rush of thinking about your s-type running down the specific shopping list and be a nice call to get.

But it is probably an inconvenience if what you wanted was to be able to deeply focus on another task while your s-type was making the list and out taking care of the shopping to give you that free time as a service, with only that one item or a few others specifically dictated.

So in the case of the latter, knowing the why might be useful to avoid that phone call.

Do you buy that brand because it’s the cheapest?  Because it’s one whose ingredients don’t irritate an allergy you have?  Because it cleans the best?  Because it comes in the easiest spray bottle?  Because it’s the only one available in that bulk size? 

Each of those whys quite possibly leads to an entirely different substitution. 

The spirit there might be, “It’s not your place to just ask why, but it is your place to provide the best service possible.” 

A lack of that why shouldn’t impede quickly doing the task with a smile.  Sometimes the why is going to be just momentary, or far less urgent than the task itself, or evident later, or simply not shared or shared right then.  And a negative answer to, “May I know why?” is still to be accepted.  But to prevent the question at all rules out the sometimes practical nature of it.

Yet, allowing it regularly may feel like a lot of freedom for the control-oriented.  

That’s a trade-off.  

And of course there’s an in-between.  Carefully sharing that why only when it is practical, rather than getting into the habit of always answering.  Perhaps changing whether or not asking is allowed between time periods or protocol levels.  Allowing the question only once the task is complete.  So on.  This can get you that balance between the joy of control and the practicality of service, the balance between decisions as a form of power and decisions as a form of service.  

I know I’m allowed to ask why for practicality (not for any of the ingenuous reasons I mentioned above), and sometimes I hear a useful-for-the-future why to note, and sometimes I hear, “Because I said so”.

Sometimes whys get figured out almost accidentally over time, or with a little bit more discussion.  My main kneeling position has my hands placed behind my back.  I wouldn’t really feel the need for a why on that since it isn’t really something I might face a conundrum on, but a surface why of, “It looks more submissive to me,” became, “It implies physical [and emotional] openness and availability to me rather than defensiveness,” in a relatively short philosophical conversation.

In situations like that, finding them out can be fun for the psychology-minded in addition to practical, though that’s just a bonus.

In the end, what’s important for M-types is not sabotaging your own priorities in the name of avoiding any trade-offs at all.  If you’d miss that rush of control more than you mind getting that phone call, you can trade off that practical knowledge for that emotional benefit.  If you’d mind the interruption more than you’d mind handing off that decision, you can trade off that bit of in-the-moment power for the concrete benefit.  There might be compromises to be made, but they’re still yours to make.

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