Today I had another “epiphany” moment in my practicum for counseling in my graduate program.
We were discussing the skills of confrontation and challenging.
The whole class agreed that confronting a client is a fairly scary/terrifying thing to do.
We never want to offend anyone, or feel like a jerk.
Plus…confronting someone is usually a little awkward, and I know that I’m always afraid of how the other person will handle it.
However, the truth is…people want to be confronted. People want honesty.
If I look super upset, yet I say “I’m fine”….I want someone to call me on that and say…”uh, are you sure? You say you’re fine, but you don’t look fine”.
The thing is…people want to be confronted, and they really do want to be challenged, but often times these confrontations are not taken seriously.
Whether or not someone takes a confrontation seriously ALL DEPENDS ON THE RELATIONSHIP! (shocker)
Random guy knocking on the door trying to confront you about your housecleaning in order to sell you a vacuum cleaner is NOT as effective as your best friend saying “dude…your house is dirty, you should invest in a vacuum cleaner”.
A precursor for challenging or confronting a client is an empathetic relationship. (Check out my post on empathy and Jesus here.)
Being with someone and feeling with someone will earn you the right to challenge them…or at least earn you the right to be taken seriously and heard when you confront someone.
I think this directly relates to being an authentic Catholic and “evangelizer”.
Of course priests, professional speakers, and people like the pope are going to challenge and confront people from the pulpit and that’s great. We need that.
(And we also see how this type of confrontation can really rub people the wrong way)
There is another way we can still challenge people on a more personal level…but it does take a significant amount of work.
I think this is a large area where we as Christians have failed.
We are the first to preach about how premarital sex is bad, or that contraception is immoral, or that abortion is wrong…but we haven’t earned the right to really, honestly challenge individuals on these issues.
When I say “earned the right” I really mean earning respect, trust, and a working relationship with people.
Sure we have the right to speak on any issue…but issues are issues. Issues don’t have souls, and stories, and fears, and pain. People have a story about why they do the things that they do…and people just want to be heard.
This is all empathy….the hard work, the getting down in the muck with people and feeling their hurts, their pains, and meeting them exactly where they are at.
If you notice in the bible, Jesus typically only challenged people after doing the work himself and after meeting people where they were at.
My favorite example is of the women caught in adultery. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to stone her, as was the tradition for women caught in adultery. However, Jesus did not stone her or challenge her actions…but went to her, bent down, and got on the ground with her. He then yelled back at the crowd, “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”. He stayed with the woman. When the crowd finally left, he asks the woman, “Has no one condemned you?” She responds, “No.” He replies, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
He challenged her to sin no more only after getting on the ground with her and being with her…meeting her where she was at.
Jesus made people feel so worthy and so loved for who they were in that very moment before he ever challenged or confronted…maybe that’s because he knew that confrontation without a loving relationship is ineffective.
Me telling someone I barely know, that abortion or birth control are inconsistent with a Christian life is not going to go over well if I have not worked to understand and love this person first.
Honestly…confronting inconsistencies is easy, and if we just point them out…it’s a cop out.
We are all hypocrites…and our lives are filled with actions that we say we don’t want to do.
Pointing that out is easy…any random person can do that.
But, we are called to more. We are called to relationship, and empathy, and love. All of which take real work and investment. And when we put in this type of work, amazingly our confrontations and challenges are valued that much more.
So…all in all, my class taught me that we should ONLY start using confrontational or challenging skills when we have practiced empathy and built a relationship.
So…basically, do what Jesus did.