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How To Call Out Your Friends, Respectfully

Hammad* and I were really good friends. Classes at school passed by in conversations and when at home, phone conversations were frequent, to say the least. We enjoyed each other’s company and shared so many similar interests that it could be considered unusual. Our friendship preceded almost all else for the both of us.

Granted that there were things we didn’t see eye to eye on, but that’s what relationships are like.

And, while differences can be many, certain differences can make things difficult. Unfortunately, in our case, that’s what happened. Over time, it became almost impossible for me to limit my exasperation to his opinions and ‘jokes’ on women. Passing unfounded comments on behaviours and competence of half the planet was not just too much of a generalisation but grossly stereotypical. He believed oppression to be a conspired reality accepting it as a mere difference wasn’t an option. Friends don’t see the validity in our or someone else’s experiences, hardships and personal choices at times and for me, that became too hard to let go.

Representational image.

Why I Didn’t Let It ‘Pass’

Avoiding or delaying difficult conversations can hurt the relationship with your friends and nobody wins there.

“Contrary to popular belief, challenging one another and making your disagreement known, with respect, is crucial in healthy connections,” says Ms Aysha, a psychotherapist, who believes boundaries, as well as confrontation, are important in interpersonal relationships.

Consider the repercussions of your silence. If we refuse to call out our friends, they might never know their viewpoint is wrong, and may never strive to become more sensitive to others’ views.

I understand that it can be a lot more difficult to call out those people that we care for. That’s what makes it even more important to do so and that’s what eventually led me to the confrontation.

Speaking out against even mild forms of inappropriate behaviour can lead to very real anxiety about social exclusion or ridicule but you can’t always overlook what’s being said and take it as a one-off.

Many have faced the dilemma of whether to prioritise the negative peace in the relationship or to upend it in favour of respecting our personal values and achieving positive peace. Only you can decide for yourself.

One time or the other, you will have to ask yourself if it’s enough to “protect” your relationships with others by keeping such aspects of your lives separate. I tried to do that at first and failed. Never calling out such bad behaviour makes you an accessory to what you stand against. Some jokes just aren’t innocent. After this realisation, I felt the need to confront Hammad.

Here’s How I Called Out My Friend

I realised in time that confrontations need not be the end of the relationship if they are handled with discretion, genuineness, empathy and respect.

One must remember how it feels to be wrong and on the receiving end of such criticism.

We don’t have to choose confrontation with brute force or surrender to a life of compliance. Confrontation with tact can kill both birds with one stone.

Here are the six stages of the confrontation I followed.

Bracing for it

No one likes confrontations and when with friends, they can become more uncomfortable than usual. Moreso, when you dread confrontations as I did. At the root of our discomfort is most often the fact that we are afraid of hurting others even if it comes at the cost of hurting ourselves.

To reduce the discomfort in such moments, Ms Aysha believes it becomes important to ask oneself some critical questions.

“Can I put up with this behaviour for all my life? If this was another person, would I feel differently? Would I make a new friend who says/does these things? Does this behaviour have a huge impact? Is there someone being directly harmed?

The answers we might give to questions might either help us find the courage to confront someone or help us lower our expectations and/or change our perspective,” she explains.

Such questions provide a much-needed perspective for us to reflect upon and it helps.

In case of such a confrontation, it is important to remember that you won’t be the only one feeling the discomfort.

The person you’re calling out will be feeling it too. My friend did too and it was evident. Ms Ayesha explains, “To grossly simplify why this happens, it is always uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of even well-meaning criticism. This can neither justify nor excuse the behaviour but can explain why people may not respond well despite the best of our intentions and efforts.”

You’re calling them out and they are going to feel called out. Being ready for it is important to prevent yourself from getting carried away and remain objective.

Remember, the end game is not to start a fight, it’s to inform someone that they need to change their behaviour.

There will be things we don’t see eye to eye on with our friends but that’s what relationships are like. Representational image.

Presenting your argument

Ms Aysha reiterates the importance of being objective to their behaviour but taking into consideration any underlying reasons for such behaviour. “We, as the objectors of their behaviour, carry the responsibility of presenting things in a manner that take into account the person’s humanity, their experiences that may have shaped these behaviours, the notion that a person is never irredeemable,” she says.

With honesty and sincerity, state your views for the other person to understand, without any attempts to condescend, force or intimidate. If you’re unsure about being understood or not, you can try to be more receptive by asking them for feedback on what you just said.

Be respectful and impersonal

“Addressing problematic behaviours and pointing out offensive statements of our close ones comes with the great risk of hurting/insulting the other party and ultimately affecting the bond,” says Ms Aysha. Hence, being respectful is important. Because like me, you might also want to remain friends with them after this conversation. I tried to keep my emotions in check by thinking things through.

Moreover, considering you are in the right, your very valid arguments must not be diluted by disrespect or contempt towards them or their words.

It is important to make it about neither them nor you. You’re calling out their behaviour and not them. Moreover, going on the offensive can only make the other person defensive, more than anything else.

Being factual

Along with the many boons of the internet, have also come problems. Due to large swathes of data being available on the internet, authenticating it has become difficult. As a result, misinformation is rampant.

The line between fact and a claim has been getting blurry and it can be the reason for such a confrontation to happen in the first place. Hence, it is not only important for you to be factual in your argument but to also ensure that the person you’re challenging is, as well.

Listen and ask

I tried to listen to them and hear what they had to say. Hearing them out can be far more persuasive than getting into an argument straightaway. Moreover, listening can help you find flaws in their argument and, at the same time, gives you a more receptive outlook.

That said, listening to an opposing side of an argument that you know is problematic can get very uncomfortable. In such moments, I tried to remember how I would like to be confronted, respectfully and with care.

Listening shouldn’t mean allowing them to go on a discourse. Ask questions. Bring your curiosity to the fore and for someone like me, who always has a lot of questions in their head, that bit came a little easier. Opinions are always complex and they involve the reality that the opinion can and must exist with its doubts. Asking questions calls upon the recognition of such complexity. Without specifically calling them out, you can put them in doubt about their own words by asking genuine questions. Finding logical and contextual fallacies in their opinions and putting them forth as questions can be helpful.

Being respectful while addressing problematic behaviours is important. Because like me, you might also want to remain friends with them after this conversation. Representational image.

Creating accountability

As per a New York Times poll, a fifth of working men admitted to telling jokes or stories that might be considered offensive by some and the issue isn’t limited to just workplaces. Such humour is often difficult to call out because of its paradoxical nature– it sends two conflicting messages. One of which is the explicitly hostile one and the second, that they didn’t mean it because it’s ‘just a joke’.

Yeah, my friend said it was a joke but it sure didn’t feel as harmless. I could take a joke but somewhere a line had to be drawn. I know jokes aren’t always politically correct but casual jokes in our everyday life subtly help feed a culture, further enforcing problematic ideas. Holding people accountable at such moments becomes essential.

My intention wasn’t to attack my friend but to try and assist him in a way he may not have recognised. We have been made to learn that it is not a polite thing to point out issues or complain. Surely, a ‘good person’ does not deliberately cast the first stone but calling someone out for their problematic behaviour isn’t wrong. Certain issues cannot be ignored to maintain this notion of companionship.

To Those Who Are Being Called Out

If your friend calls you out, they’re expecting better from you. That’s because you matter and not just to them, your words matter and what you say and do can either make the world a little better or a little worse off and your friend hopes for it to be the former.

Luckily, Hammad* understood where I was coming from and that sure helped. We talked it out amongst ourselves, I let him know my concerns and after the early hostility, he came around to slowly understand some aspects of my argument and that was victory enough for me.

There isn’t a sureness to success for us though. Our friends may not always perceive our intentions as they’re meant and we may not always be able to express our concern in the right ways. Don’t let it deter your motivation. You’re trying to use your position of relative power to advocate for someone who doesn’t have that.

You’re trying to change one friend, one joke, one incident at a time and there are going to be some hurdles in your way. More importantly, you’re trying. Keep trying and be the change you wish to see.

The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.
Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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