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Loving Accountability: What is it & How to Provide it

loving accountability

What does it mean to “hold somebody’s feet to the fire” in a therapeutic way? Is there a way to hold someone’s feet fire in a loving, empathetic way? Personally, I believe that there are many ways to hold someone's feet to the fire in a loving way.  Accountability is often times seen as a toxic or confrontational word. But why is that? I think it’s because people often times use accountability as a guise to communicate information in a mean-spirited, harsh, or toxic way. It’s often punishing, humiliating or harmful. In this post we will explore what loving accountability is and why it is important.

What is Loving Accountability

Healthy accountability is about communicating in a way that effectively puts people first, living our values, focusing on a shared outcome, and strengthening our relationships with those around us. It’s about taking ownership and responsibility for wants needs. It’s about recognizing that other people need support and appropriate accommodations along the way. It’s about recognizing that there’s more than one way to get something done and openly discussing the various options and solutions. And once we’ve done this, it’s about holding people to account for the things that they’ve already agreed to. It’s checking in with them and making sure that we didn’t miss something. Maybe there was a barrier we didn’t account for. Maybe something came up unexpectedly that got in the way of that person, completing the task or holding up their end of the bargain. But if we can approach people with authenticity, directly, communicate our wants and needs, asking curious questions, being open to feedback and their response, and mitigating defensiveness— we are more likely to see positive results.

I intrinsically believe that people are fundamentally good. We as humans have solid, morals and values. We care about each other and our shared goals. We are also inherently, flawed and imperfect we struggle with our own self perception, and battle our own demons. We desperately want to be excepted by those around us and when we’re called out in a way that feels rejecting or judgmental—we are more like to shutdown and withdraw or raise our armor, become defensive, and even potentially cruel in our communication. 

So how do we approach people in a healthier way when our needs aren’t being met?

Warmly and directly.  We need to acknowledge what our own pain points are. We need to explain our why. We need to remind that person of our shared responsibilities and goals. We need to ask. Curious questions about what might be getting in that person’s way we offer support and health within reasonable limits and communicate our boundaries we regularly check in with that person along the way to ensure the solutions we put in place are working and we hold peoples feet to the fire to take accountability and responsibility for having these conversations regularly, we don’t just focus on the outcomes but the relationship we have with that person. Relationship should be mutually beneficial and reciprocal. It’s not a tit for tat, or a means of keeping score. It’s about dignity, respect, and genuine care, and concern about one another and healthy accountability is ensuring that we are protecting those relationships every step of the way. Because if we continue to ignore our needs not being met, we are have become active participants in sabotaging our relationships. 

We also need to acknowledge when we failed to clarify or directly communicate our expectations and boundaries in our relationships. People are not mind readers. We cannot hold people to account for some thing that they never agreed to in the first place. It’s our responsibility to openly discuss and explore what we want our relationship dynamics to be, are we in alignment in our values, morals, and beliefs, do we have the same fundamental goals, and are we both equally invested sustaining the relationship. In addition to exploring the overarching fundamental glue that will sustain our relationship, have we also explored more deeply, the specific roles and responsibilities and boundaries within that relationship. Have we clarified with one another and both mutually agreed? If we haven’t, we are more likely to see that relationship fail not only because we are not on the same page. But also because we are less likely to be willing to have those open conversations down the line, and therefore, how can we hold each other accountable in a healthy, meaningful way double bond is closer together, moving our relationship forward, as well as reaching our share, destination, and future goals?

Why is it so hard for many of us to have healthy accountability?

It’s not easy to have healthy accountability in a relationship. For many of us it was never modeled appropriately or consistently. But it’s more than possible. When we give people the benefit of the doubt, and we speak with openness, honesty, integrity, directness and give people the benefit of the doubt—our relationships are more likely to flourish and thrive. 

I choose to believe that people want to do the right thing. And if we give them the opportunity to do so, with empathy, love and support—that person will make every effort to step up to the plate and take ownership in the relationship. We can’t expect perfection. And it may take time for them to more consistently meet the expectations. So persistence and patience is vital. 

And when we offer this loving accountability to the people in our lives – they are more likely to give this back to us and return. Doesn’t that sound like a relationship you’d love to be apart of?

Why does healthy accountability matter?

This isn’t about co-signing on someone else’s bullshit. It’s not a license to seeing taking accountability while not putting in the work. If a person approaches you with the gift of healthy accountability, it’s an opportunity for you to work on the relationship, and the specific requests they are making. It’s an opportunity to salvage the relationship and make the repair. And it’s the gift of patience and time to make that change, but if you choose not to take, the opportunity is not that person‘s responsibility to continue to stay in a relationship where that persons needs are not being met. These conversations require you to be vulnerable. To voice your own concerns, needs and wants. To negotiate the roles and responsibilities. To verbalize your limitations and ask for help. If your unwilling to take the necessary steps to improve and repair the relationship—they have every right to distance themselves or end the relationship.

-Elizabeth Hocker, LPC

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