Imagine yourself knowing that a friend, neighbor, or colleague is losing their home and in the blink of an eye, you run into them while you’re at the grocery store. What would you say? What wouldn’t you say? Do you know what you’d do?
Unfortunately, this is a real situation for my mom who lives just outside of New Orleans. It’s a long story, but it’s something she deals with every day. Some people freeze, or look the other way, others want to say “something”. But more often than not, well meaning people end up fumbling for words until they’ve planted their foot firmly in their mouth.
When it comes to offering words of comfort, most people just don’t really know what to say. And perhaps worse yet, they don’t know what not to say. So, that’s what prompted me to start this conversation with you.
Look around. I’ll bet you know someone who could use some words of comfort. Who do you know that is mourning a death in the family, nursing a sick child, or worrying about a loved one fighting in Iraq?
Will you be the person who offers words of comfort, or the person who fumbles for words?
Try using these tips to prepare what you’ll say. Be sure to let me know how you do.
Six Tips To Offer Words Of Comfort
Think before you speak
Ask yourself, “If someone said this (what you’re about to say) to my mother, would it be more comforting or more annoying?"
Speak from your heart instead of your head
Your heart says things like: “I’m so sorry, I’ve been thinking of you, You’ve been on my mind, How can I help, I can’t imagine what you’re feeling, You’re in my thoughts and prayers”
Your head speaks phrases like: “Hey I heard, Is it true, I can’t believe it”
Ask about support needed instead of prying for details
Focus your questions on offering to support the well being of the people involved. Words like: “How can I help, What can I do, What do you most need right now”
Resist the urge to talk about yourself or someone else you know
Taboo phrases like: "I know how you feel, My aunt Betty went through that, I can relate”.
Listen more than you speak
The discomfort of awkward situations sometimes drives us to fill moments of silence with words. Make peace with the silence. If the person wants to talk, be there to listen. If not, give them space.
Refrain from giving advice
If you catch yourself thinking anything like: “If I were you…, When that happened to me…” just zip it.
And finally, if possible, let your actions speak louder than your words. What you do, or don’t do, matters more than what you say. Remember, people don’t always remember what you say, but they always remember how you make them feel.
Let’s continue this discussion here. What would you add to these tips? What situations are most awkward for you?