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I love the meaning, but I am tired of the phrase "[to] meet someone where they are." This phrase is synonymous with social work and many helping professions, so I hear it at least a few times a month. Does anyone know of an English word that I can use in place of this trite phrase?

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  • It makes a pair with my own feeling about the description of some behaviour, belief or predilection as being "who I am". I fear we just have to put up with them. In some circumstances, one might use "to meet someone half way", though that is not quite the same. Though surely such 'meetings' ought to be reciprocal rather than a rhetorical device to bully the addressee. I suppose it to be (on the good side) about properly understanding others' views and behaviours before criticising them. I fear that if any less trite phrase might come to feel trite before long. Sorry not to be more help.
    – Tuffy
    Jan 9, 2022 at 21:51

3 Answers 3

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In his article Against “Meeting People Where They Are”, Tom Beaudoin initially defines “meeting people where they are” as

a pastoral translation of something like a theologically “correlational” approach to ministry. By “correlational” in academic theology, we mean an approach that tries to connect, or “correlate,” something significant from life (here, popular music) with something significant from faith (for example, a religious concept or biblical text).

So correlational is one possibility.

However, later in the same article, Beaudoin goes on to conclude:

Maybe, then, an even better revision of the phrase would be: “Meeting people where neither of us are,” to signify that a true “meeting” will open up something beyond whether either person started.

Seen in this light, perhaps co-relational might be an apt rendering of the phrase.

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You could say that you are accommodating [MWD]

willing to do what someone else wants or requests

or willing to interact/engage with them on their terms [MWD]

on one's (own) terms: according to one's own wishes :  in one's own way 

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  • Hmm. My instructors and colleagues describe it in a manner that calls for some level of empathy. The phrase includes recognizing the unique challenges a client may experience. Also, the phrase is often used when a social worker or therapist actively pursues a relationship with a client. The client often may not have insight or suffer from anosognosia. Basically, the client may develop a way to articulate their needs and the social work is present with the client throughout the client's therapeutic process. I hope all of that made sense.
    – Octopus
    Nov 1, 2016 at 21:30
  • It seems like the phrase has a very precise meaning for practitioners. I would argue that if a simpler term existed, it would be used.
    – 0xFEE1DEAD
    Nov 1, 2016 at 21:38
  • @0xFEE1DEAD I agree. Technical terms in all fields are often shorthand for complex concepts, imagine trying to do without the words 'crankshaft' in mechanical engineering, 'transformer' in electrical engineering, 'database' in computing or 'inorganic' in chemistry. The books dealing with those subjects would become even more unreadable than they are already!
    – BoldBen
    Nov 2, 2016 at 7:34
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building on the person's strengths

means approximately the same thing. It means you start where the person is functioning well, with a lot of confidence, and branch out from there into less confident territory.

Also, adj: strength-based, e.g. "taking a strength-based approach".

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