Invitation vs. Confrontation

I spend a lot of time these days thinking and talking and writing about how to help people get where they’re trying to go — and, by extension, help get society where we need to go.

Naturally, this means dealing with change. And not just with theories of change, though those are certainly important. Most of all, it means dealing with all the fears and insecurities and individual quirks that get in the way of people learning and growing.

Over and over, the question is how to respond to someone who’s stretched as far as he or she feels capable of stretching. Simply pointing out that it looks different from where I’m sitting isn’t too valuable: that’s like yelling at the TV when the receiver drops the apparently unmissable catch.

The crux of it seems to be about what information to transmit and, especially, how.

In general, less is more: telling someone he’s not good at football isn’t nearly as useful as working on his running, then his quickness, then his catching. And it’s really important to distinguish between “That doesn’t work” and “That didn’t work for me.” All receivers must stay in bounds, but Bill Walsh’s receivers need different techniques from Bill Parcells’.

Most of all, it’s essential to walk the fine line between the bold invitation and chest-beating confrontation. “Level up already!” or “Level up — I dare you!” are much different interventions than “I think I see what you’re trying to do here. Have you tried thinking about it this way?”

We can’t browbeat our way to a better society. It’s sometimes tempting, but it’s worse than useless. The only viable alternative is to boldly, generously, humanely invite people to better themselves.