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7 Steps to Help Someone Have More Awareness

Nov 09, 2020

If someone in your life behaves in a way that causes problems but he doesn’t know his behavior is a problem, you are dealing with unawareness. It can be something bothersome but not dangerous. Or it can be something life threatening, as with an alcohol, drug, or prescription pill addiction. 

You may be acutely aware of the issue yourself, much more so than the person with the problem. You may want to address it with the person for his sake and yours. At the same time, you may be at a loss on how helpfully to approach him. Use the following seven steps to help that person come to awareness and find a solution to the problem: 

1. Take a “Presumed Innocent” Approach
Until you know better, assume a person is innocent of bad motives or intents, and approach him accordingly. If the person truly does not know what he is doing, he needs compassion and gentleness from you. Being innocently unaware is a far cry from being resistant, defensive, or blaming. The other person may simply be unable to comprehend the problem. Perhaps he is afraid to see it or does not possess the tools to look at himself.

In other cases, he may simply not know the full extent of the severity of the issue—how it may be ruining his life as well as your relationship with him. Or he may not want to know something about himself because it would interfere with his concept of his own goodness and perfection. Here is an example of how to confront a person who is unaware of an issue:

“I wanted to let you know I have noticed something in our relationship that could end up being a problem. Sometimes it seems that when we talk, you aren’t really listening to me. You say the right things, but you look around and don’t make eye contact. It even feels at times as if you are waiting for me to finish so that you can talk about whatever is on your mind. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but before it becomes a big deal, I wanted to bring it up. What do you think?”

Here the confronter starts with the stance that all the person being confronted needs is some basic information, and she gave him room to give his own input on the question. When a person genuinely is not aware, often making him aware is all the “nudge” needed for change to take place.

2. Be Humble
Approach the person and the situation humbly. Humility is not about perceiving yourself as lower than you are. It has to do with perceiving yourself as you really are, with both weaknesses and strengths.

A humble approach sounds like this: “I want to make you aware that sometimes you control the situation in our relationship and others. Please don’t misunderstand where I’m coming from here. This isn’t about putting you down or saying that I’m better. I have many things I’ve been working on for some time, so I’m in the same position you are. My intent is to let you know about the problem, not as a judge, but as a friend.”

3. Empathize
Empathy is the ability to identify with the feelings of another person. Think of times when someone was unloving or harsh with you, when he told you about a problem you had that you were unaware of. Think also of those occasions in which someone made you aware of a problem and you were able to receive it well. Most likely the second person gave you empathy and warmth along with the truth.

When you are aware of your own needs for empathy and kindness, the dynamic between you and the other person changes: “I want you to be aware of your financial irresponsibility, because if I were in your position, I would want someone to tell me. I would hope someone would care enough about my situation to take a chance and approach me on it. That is how I feel about you. I’m on your side, and I know that hearing about this is not easy for you. Hang in there with me.”

4. Find Out How Unaware Is Unaware
Some people, for various reasons, have little self-awareness; they possess little ability to look at themselves and perceive what they are doing or why they are doing it. They have often not had many relational experiences in which they had to look at themselves. This type of person has usually suffered from her lack of awareness. She may have lost romantic, relational, or career opportunities due to her inability to check and correct herself.

You may need to shepherd a person like this into the world of awareness. She may not fully understand what you are telling her. Don’t be impatient with her. Say something like “I want to let you know that what you do affects me for good and for bad. When you are kind to me, I feel loved and close. But when you snap at me for giving you directions, you hurt my feelings, and I shut down.” This clarity and specificity gives the person some association between her behaviors and her relationship with you.

5. Be Direct
When you need to make someone aware of a problem, the best approach is always to be loving but direct. If a person does not know what he is doing, it is no favor to him to hint around or be indirect about what you know is true. Remember that he is blind to this behavior, so he has no context for understanding it.

We often are indirect out of a desire to be kind or to not hurt the person’s feelings. Yet, sparing feelings now can lead to injuries later. It is certainly possible that you will cause the person you are confronting discomfort or pain. This is one of the effects of the truth: It makes us uncomfortable as it points out a problem. However, your directness can also give life to someone who needs it. Try to avoid the following examples of indirectness and use the better approach that is more direct:

Indirect: “Can you consider picking me up on time tonight for the Christmas party?” Better: “Please pick me up on time tonight for the Christmas party.”
Indirect: “Doesn’t that bother you when you are so mean to me?” Better: “Please don’t correct me in front of my mother.”
Indirect: “Are you sure you want to buy this DVD player for Uncle Bill?” Better: “Please don’t buy that DVD player. We can’t afford it this Christmas.”

6. Be Specific
Specifics add substance and meaning to your presentation of a problem. They flesh out what you are trying to convey and clarify the point you are trying to make. When you use specific examples, approach the person anticipating that at first she is likely to be open to what you have to show her. Give her the benefit of the doubt.

Often a goodhearted person will be surprised at seeing evidence of a problem. Sometimes she will even be remorseful, feeling bad about the effects of her actions. These types of responses are good indicators that the person is taking the specifics to heart and will do something to resolve the issue. Even if the person proves to be more resistant, however, don’t avoid giving specifics. Specifics can help break through defenses.

7. Request Change
When helping a person become aware, make sure you make a request for change. Since she has not realized until now that her behavior or attitude is a problem, she may also not know what to do about it or even if she should do anything. Requesting change helps clarify what is expected and gives her a structure for reestablishing any connection between you and her.

A request for change is specific. It also preserves freedom. In other words, it is not a demand; you are aware that the person has a choice. Also, a request should originate from your heart; it needs to be based on your care for and about the person. Here are some ways to ask for change:

“I’d like for you to refrain from cursing in front of the kids. They hear you and might repeat what you say.” 

“When I am talking, I would like for you to let me finish my thoughts and sentences before responding.” 

“I need for you to work on your anger; it makes me uncomfortable when you burst out in front of others. There is a counselor I want you to suggest to you.” 

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