While studying for my MSW, the term, Meet your clients where they’re at, kept coming up again and again. The idea is that we had to be mindful of our client’s current state and our work with them should begin where they were, and not where we might have expected or wanted them to be.
But after years of working with colleagues, supervisors and staff, as well as in my personal relationships, I came to realize that the principle of meeting people where they’re at doesn’t just apply to clients I worked with, but with all relationships that I wanted to improve.
Too often we have expectations of where people should be and how they should act. But this, I believe, can drastically hurt relationships. I’ve made this mistake myself.
I did this with my husband when I became resentful of the way he communicated with me. While not paying attention to the fact that there were cultural differences in communication. And we know that resentment is one of the key factors that lead to divorce.
I also made this mistake with my mother, expecting that she parent me in such a way that she had never learned. And again, I made this mistake with a supervisor I once had, deeming her irrelevant because she appeared to be thrown off guard each time I asked her a question, while she had only been working at the organization for a month.
People are not just what they present before you. They’ve had experiences, both good and bad, which has shaped who they are. It’s important that we always remember this in our relationships.
So how can you meet people where they’re at when you want to improve a relationship? I believe there are 2 steps you can take right now to do so.
Ask questions to better understand where they’re at and how they got there. Ask to really understand and not just to show them their flaws. Be empathetic in the conversation to allow them to be vulnerable. Recognize that people have limitations and often times they don’t even see their limitations. So asking questions and having these conversations may help them to see the areas that they can continue to improve.
Assess your expectations and decide whether they’re healthy expectations to keep. Sometimes we may have unrealistic expectations that people just can’t meet. You can also talk to someone you trust and share your thoughts. It’s possible that you may not see that you have unrealistic expectations and talking with someone may help to provide you with insight.
I hope that as you begin to meet people where they’re at while you work on improving your relationships, it’ll give you a clearer understanding of the issues and allow you to be more empathetic. Remember, we all have areas for growth.