Clarifiers, comforters and confronters

A brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a kick in the pants

By Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.

Natasha Josefowitz

LA JOLLA, California — We all have friends or family members we can talk to, colleagues we use as sounding boards—all of whom may be helpful—but we seldom think in terms of the specific functions these various people perform in our lives. Most of us need three very different kinds of support: a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a kick in the pants.

We need a brain to pick when we want advice, when there are difficult decisions to be made, when we need to problem solve, when we want to choose among several alternatives, when we wish to share a responsibility. Who are the people who could perform that function? It is those whose preferred way of relating to others is through thinking. They are the clarifiers. They have the capacity for understanding. It must be people whose minds you respect and who can articulate their thoughts well. Whenever you believe that two heads will be better than one, pick a clarifier to help you think. Be specific about your objectives and your hoped-for outcome.

We need a shoulder to cry on (or at least lean on), when we don’t need advice, but want someone to listen to us without telling us what we should have done or could have said. Sometimes we need someone we can be vulnerable with, confused, or not quite rational, and who won’t think any the less well of us for being that way. Many of us have trouble sharing our burdens with others, afraid of being boring, imposing, being seen as inadequate, incompetent, or too dependent. When we need a good cry or just someone to sit and listen patiently to our problems, we must find a comforter. Those are people whose main way of functioning is through feelings. They have the capacity for intimacy. You will recognize comforters by their availability and their non-judgmental attitudes. It is important for you to be able to trust this person to not use the information against you. To just be able to talk and have someone listen may be enough.

The third function we may sometimes need in our lives is a kick in the pants. This is when we are ready to give in or give up, when we need to be redirected or challenged. A kick in the pants from the right person at the right time and in just the right way will get us going again in our attempt to master our environment, our work, ourselves. The people who can do this best, who say to us: come on, you can do it; pick yourself up and go for it are the confronters. Confronters’ preferred mode is though acting. They have the capacity for assertion and have little tolerance for ambivalence or procrastination. They will be out there pushing themselves and others to get on with it. When you need a confronter, you ask for a pep talk, explaining why you need one.

While the confronter will help us act (or get our act together), the comforter will help us deal with our feelings, and the clarifier will help us think better. It is up to us to seek the people who can best perform these function and ask them to do so. Each one has different capacities and will evaluate us by a different set of criteria. We will seldom find all three attributes in a single human being. It is important to find people who can fill all three functions. Stop a moment and jot down the names of people who you can call on when you need a brain, a shoulder, or a kick.

Besides individuals who may be helpful to us, belonging to an organization, a club or a peer group can also play an important role in our lives. These groups are made up of people who share similar interests or similar positions and can be potential resources for information or referrals. They are indispensable because they permit people to see that they are not alone in dealing with particular problems, that there are others like them, struggling with the same issues, and willing to help.

Whenever people meet to discuss matters of mutual interest, everyone benefits from the exchange because new solutions are found, and commitment is greater when people participate in decisions which affect them. The existence of some committees, while not apparent to the members, have sometimes no other purpose than to reaffirm the organization’s goals, objectives, and values and to allow people to be together, exchange ideas and points of view, and support one another.

We not only all need help from others, we equally need to be there when people need us to clarify, comfort or confront. Which are you best at?

© Natasha Josefowitz. This article appeared initially in the La Jolla Village News. You may comment to [email protected]

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