Think of someone you love. Probably not hard to do. Now think of a trait, or
a flaw, or a weakness they have that bugs you. Probably also not hard to do!
So how can you be honest and address the issues, without offending the
Studio 5 Relationship Coach Matt Townsend shares a lesson in
This topic came from the article called “Compassionate Truthfulness” in
Psychology Today by T. Byram Karasu, M.D.
In this article Dr. Karasu explored how we can better deal with the people
around us . . . and their little flaws that might seriously annoy us. He used a
metaphor he called the “Errant Thread” where he described a sweater with an
errant thread that is poking out of the sweater. It was a broken thread, which
if not dealt with, could end up ruining the sweater completely. This thread for
some becomes their obsession, the only thing that they can fixate on, and
many won’t relax until it is fixed. The errant thread however is a point of
personal disappointment or sadness for the owner of the sweater. It may be
known or unknown to them but we all must be careful how we handle it.
Ignoring it could be disastrous, as it could cause other problems down the
road if not treated, and trying to fix the problem by pulling on the thread too
aggressively could risk unraveling the whole sweater altogether.
With each of us encountering friends and families with errant threads that we
could help with I’ve included the following three steps to help us balance
both truthfulness and compassion in our interactions.
1. Focus on the Whole Sweater, Not Just the Errant Thread
· Remember that everyone is much more valuable than just their weakest
· Communicate the beauty of the whole person. Appreciate and celebrate
their whole beauty and don’t just try to fix the errant thread.
· Your inability to see only the errant thread and not the whole sweater
only weakens your ability to truly help the person you care about.
· “I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care!”
· Remember that the differences in colors, textures and contrasts, when all
combined between our threads, are what make the person unique and
2. It’s Their Sweater So Let Them Lead the Way
When it comes to helping people close to you deal with their problems or
“errant threads” a great rule of thumb is to let them lead the way. Remember
their problems are entirely theirs and only they have the power to really do
anything about them. The minute the outside person feels more motivated to
someone to deal with a person’s most difficult or embarrassing issues in life,
that imbalance could begin to create some fairly uncomfortable scenarios.
Our goal in trying to get someone to deal with their “errant threads” is not to
control them, but to help them, which is why we must be willing to balance
our need to be truthful with compassion and understanding for the other
person. People can have obvious flaws and we can still love them anyway. If
you are seriously concerned about another person’s flaws impacting their
life, then show so much compassion towards them that they can trust to
share their problems with you. Our goal with compassion then is to become a
safe partner so we can be a helper and a guide on the side. Our
compassionate side will help us to understand how to best help the people
we care about, and to let them explore their own weakness their way, not
3. Tools to Discuss the Errant Threads of Others
Instead of jumping straight into your story, your judgments or your solutions
on how to fix the obvious problems your friends face, gently surface the
issues so a conversation can actually take place. Below are a few ways to get
that conversation started:
1. Share The Data That Concerns You and Invite More
o “Jane, I’ve noticed that you haven’t called in the last few weeks or
dropped by like you usually do…. What’s up?”
2. Recognize Their Emotion and Invite More Understanding
o “Hey Jane, you’ve seemed a little sad lately…. What’s up?”
3. Combine 1 or 2 with a Compassionate Statement of Love and
o “Jane, I’ve noticed you haven’t been calling in the last few weeks or
dropped by like you usually do. I care so much about you and I’ve been
4. Use “Ands, not Buts”
o Say “I really care that you are hurting and feeling so desperate and I feel
strongly you need to get help immediately” . . . instead of “I really care that
you are hurting and feeling so desperate, but I feel strongly that you need to
get help immediately!”
o An “and” help us bridge honesty and compassion, where “but” seem to
sound like one is more important than the other.
In the end, the best way to balance truthfulness and compassion is to simply
determine what your long term goals are. Do you really need to help them
change this problem or can you be a loving, accepting supporter? Remember
that everyone has an “errant thread” in their lives and most of us want to
improve our own situation but just don’t know how to deal with what needs
to be done. By being able to balance compassion and truthfulness with those
around you may serve as a great catalyst of change and love, something this
world needs a whole lot more of.
To schedule a free relationship consultation with Matt Townsend, call: