Here’s What it Means to Call Someone In… and How It’s Different from Calling Someone Out

This post is based on an Instagram Live interview with my friend and fellow therapist, Jesie Steffes, LPC. Our conversation was directed primarily at helping our predominantly white clients and followers to move towards allyship with BIPOC. Join me for Riverbend Therapy Chats each Monday on Instagram Live (@riverbendtherapy) as I discuss mental health topics and answer your questions with my colleagues.

If you’ve been to this blog before or seen my Instagram, you probably know that one thing I talk about is how we all have a river of heartache running through us, and each must learn how to stand in our rivers without getting swept away.

Right now, my river of grief feels especially powerful, as yours might, too. This is a time of tremendous growth and change for many of us. Our hearts are heavy from the ongoing killings of Black people as well as all we’ve been learning about the long history of racism in America.

Some of us have been learning through social media, articles, books, or videos. Others have been having conversations with family, friends, or strangers on social media. And sometimes those conversations are, frankly, pretty difficult, as we learn that the people we love don’t always share our views or values.

On this week’s Riverbend Therapy Chat on Instagram Live, Jesie Steffes, LPC, and I talked about how to have those difficult conversations with compassion, especially when those conversations are with close friends and family. We focused on the ideas of how to call people in, how that differs from calling people out, and when either or both are appropriate. The full video is on my Instagram, but here are some highlights to help you understand how to navigate difficult conversations while maintaining or even strengthening your relationships.

To begin, let’s break down the difference between calling out and calling in. Most of us are likely familiar with what it means to call someone out. We’ve seen it in the news or on social media, or perhaps we’ve even experienced it in our own lives. Calling someone out looks like:

→ Confronting them, often publicly, about a belief they hold or an action they’ve taken.

→ Telling them how and why they’re wrong.

→ Assuming you understand why they acted the way they did.

→ Questioning their character and labeling them.

If you’ve called someone out before, perhaps it’s made you feel brave or proud of yourself for defending your values. Maybe you’ve gotten kudos for it from friends and family, or likes on social media. But if someone has called you out, it’s likely made you feel very differently, like you’re being punished or shamed for your actions. Perhaps your behavior has changed around the person who called you out, but your heart and mind might not have.

Calling someone out often feels volatile or confrontational. Calling someone in, on the other hand, should not feel like conflict. It might be uncomfortable because it still involves discussing someone’s beliefs or behaviors with them, but it should be the discomfort of vulnerability. Calling someone in uses compassion to understand the other person and make yourself known in return, and looks like:

→ Sharing your perspective, often privately, on the other person’s thoughts and actions.

→ Listening with empathy and a genuine desire to understand the emotions fueling the other person’s beliefs.

→ Recognizing that you both feel strongly about an issue, even if your beliefs differ.

As you start navigating challenging conversations with others and learning to call in people, here are some important things to keep in mind: