A.K.A, “Handling Questions Designed to Put You On the Spot and Them Out of the Spot”.
Interventions are extremely uncomfortable to do. Your main job is to try to help them to see that they can no longer continue to live in “the denial of the present reality.” Chances are they will get upset and object – this is designed to put you on the defensive and to take the focus off of themselves. Remember, the person you are confronting has had years of practice in avoiding dealing with their problems. A few ideas might help you in this process.
Working with “Avoiders”
It is important to remember that the person you are concerned about has had years of “practice skills” in avoiding dealing with their problems. They are also extremely good at defending themselves.
Additionally, this person has practiced and is quite good at “the disease of denial” in order to avoid the need to face some unfortunate truths about themselves. They are also experts in turning the conversation around and putting all the pressure on you (as a way of changing the conversation and making you the defensive one). Don’t be surprised by these and other similar tactics.
Remember that people like this tend to have an “arrested emotional development.” For example, if they have been practicing “bad behaviors” since they were 13 years old, this is where they are stuck at, even if they are 30 years old! This means that you are dealing with the thinking and functioning of a person who will react and act like a teenager to whatever is said to them.
Don’t be surprised or confused by the other person’s immaturity of response. Your job is to try to bring them back to the reality of the present situation and help them to see that they can no longer continue to live in “the denial of the present reality.” In other words, it is time for them to grow up and take on life as a responsible adult no matter how much they protest.
This is the main reason that you should try to do an intervention with another person so that you can avoid having all the pressure put on you. It also helps to have another set of eyes and ears who can move in to say things when you (or they) feel stuck with what to say next. This way, you will have a list of specific examples and situations that are hard for the other person to deny. Further, practicing ahead of time together is important so you both are skilled and ready to do this intervention.
Handling “Trick Questions”
Trick questions are only designed to put you on the defensive and take the focus off of themselves. What they may say to you may well be true, but “that is not the focus of the discussion today”. Don’t let any “truth” block you from your goal. Turn it back on them by agreeing and then clarifying what the real issues is at this moment in time.
By doing this, you are doing the exact opposite of what they expect. Your job is to quickly refocus them back to the real topic at hand, no matter what they say.
Examples of Trick Questions (and How to Respond to Them)
- “You think you know it all.”
Response: “Well, I don’t. However, I do know that we are talking about something that is important to your life and your family.”
- “You should talk. Look what you have done with your life.”
Response: “You are right. I learned too late and wished someone had taken the time like we are to help correct things sooner.”
- “You have never supported me and are always finding ways of putting me down.”
Response: “Whether or not that is true is not the focus of this discussion. We are not here to put you down. We are here to help figure out the best solutions to deal with this situation.”
- “You don’t care about me and are just trying to put me down.”
Response: “That is not true or we wouldn’t be here. We care and we want to help even though this may be difficult for all of us.”
- “You don’t belong here and have no right to say anything about how we life our life or make decisions in our family.”
Response: “You are right and we wished that we didn’t have to be here to talk of these issues. But these are important issues to all of us and everyone’s future. We have avoided talking of these issues too long already so we had no choice but to invite you to talk this all over with us.”
- “You made the same mistakes when you were our age so who are you to talk.”
Response: “You are right. I wish that someone would have talked to me and that I had the guts to listen if they did care enough to talk to me about it. It took me too long to mature enough to face many things. But that is why we are here.”
- “I can figure it out myself and I don’t need any advice from you.”
Response: “We wish that were true but the reality is that things have not been working out and things are getting worse. Something needs to be done right now even though we all may have to do many things at once if we are to find solutions. You should welcome us for caring enough to take the time to want to risk talking with you.
- “I can figure it out and handle it.”
Response: “We know you are smart and should be able to figure it out. However, none of us sometimes are able to figure it out alone. We are stronger when we work together to face problems and work to find out solutions.
- “Yes, but…”
Response: “That is the kind of response that has gotten me into problems in the past and it will not help for us to keep saying ‘Yes, but’.”
- “I don’t agree with you. You are just trying to stop……..”
Response: “You don’t have to agree with us. All we are asking is that you think about it. Arguing about it or being defensive doesn’t help. When we hear the truth, we often get mad or upset. This is how we can tell that this is important – because you feel upset, defensive or need to argue a point.”
Your Goal is to Disarm and Refocus
By agreeing with them about anything they say about you (no matter whether or not what they say it is fully true, a half truth, a small truth, or makes us feel guilty), you are doing the opposite of what they expect.
They actually don’t think that you will agree with them. By agreeing with them you can point out what you have learned about life “too late” and wish better for them and their family.
It is important to know that they might not let you know that you are reaching them at some level. However, know that what you are saying is important and at some level they have heard you.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because words and truths have been said that the person will get better. Have a clear idea of what you want them to do “tomorrow.” Set time limits and expectations of what you want to see being done. The goal is to find ways that they will do what is needed to resolve the problem.
Set a time to get back together in the near future. Don’t let it go too long without checking in again. Don’t let them ”shine you on” by avoiding sitting down with you again. Don’t let them scare you into challenging their behavior. Instead, set goals and expectations about what behaviors need to follow.
Know that if the first intervention fails, you will just have to do a follow-up intervention again pointing out that the problem is still there and not being dealt with in a realistic way.
Know that when you have done an intervention, you are now the one who is responsible to insure that something happens that will be helpful. But (and this is important): You can’t do it for them. However, you can help them to keep focused on accomplishing the desired goals.
No – you can’t drag them to the goal or accomplish it for them. However, you can continue to keep shining a light on the issue so it can’t be denied, argued, avoided, or manipulated in negative ways. This is not an easy for comfortable task for any of us. However, it is something that has to be done before things “really get worse.”