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The Worst Thing to Say to Someone in Pain

The Worst Thing to Say to Someone in Pain

People throughout your day ask you how you are. You’ll hear it as you step to the cashier, as you enter the office at work, or when you unexpectedly bump into someone you know. Sometimes, of course, people genuinely want to know how you are.

More often than not, though, it’s just said out of politeness and no one is expecting you to answer honestly with “Today’s been miserable. My car broke down and then my boss blasted me for being late for work.” Everyone just expects your answer to be “I’m fine, how are you?” and they answer in kind.

This same dynamic is often what happens when someone offers “Let me know if you need anything” to someone who is struggling or in pain.

It’s said so automatically and universally that the person struggling tends to offer the predictable response “No, thanks. I’ve got it. I’m fine” even when they are anything but fine.

“Let me know if you need anything.”

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This seven word cliché, as well intentioned as you may mean it, really is one if the worst things you can say to someone who is going through a hard time.

It’s just not helpful because it actually requires a lot of the person who is clearly already struggling. They have to be able to know or anticipate their need and be willing to push through any vulnerability that they may be feeling to say their need out loud.

It’s not easy to say “Actually, I have another doctor’s appointment tonight and I don’t want my kids to eat take out for the third night in a row, could you make them dinner?”

In the moment, that feels like a lot to ask of someone so even though the person is struggling and in pain, they will very likely hesitate in asking for that kind of help.

The word “anything” is so daunting to someone who is already feeling vulnerable or compromised.

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What are the limits around it? Is what I need too much to ask? Am I going to be a burden? What if things get worse and I am going to need more help later on down the line? Should I just wait?

This is the kind of dialogue that people tend to have with themselves when they are receiving these vague offers for help. Often times, the internal dialogue is so exhausting, they just say nothing.

Just. Show. Up.

Beginning. Middle. End. When someone you love or care about is having a hard time, the best thing you can do is just show up. Visit. Drop by. Check in. Call. Instead of focusing on offers of help, just do your best to be helpful. Look around at the situation, see what you think needs to be done and just work with people to get it done.

Too often, people avoid stepping in because they don’t want to be intrusive. They are leery about just showing up for a visit, coming by with casseroles, or offering a certificate to the spa. What you’re very likely trying to find out when you say “Let me know if you need anything” is that you don’t know what they might need but that you’re willing to help.

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You’ll be more helpful if you change the question.

Instead of saying “What do you need?” or “Let me know if you need anything.” Try saying instead “I thought I would come by for a quick visit around 2:00. Would that work out for you or would you prefer another time?” It’s easier for someone who is struggling to turn someone down or reschedule to a better time than it is to say “Actually, I have been kind of lonely. Would you mind stopping by?”

 You can also try:

  • When Frank was in the hospital, it really helped me when my mother-in-law made us a week’s worth of meals that we could just heat up and eat whenever. I’d love to pay it forward and do that for you. What do you guys like to eat? I happily take requests.
  • Would it be helpful if I took your kids for the night? I’ll look after them for a day or two if that might give you a break.
  • What kind of movies do you like? I’m stopping by the library and could pick you up a few.
  • I know there’s nothing I can do to make this go away but I sure would like to make it easier. Would you be ok with it if I cleaned your house for you on Saturday morning? I’d love to take a chore or two off your plate.
  • I know you must miss being able to tend to your garden. Would it be ok if the kids and I came by and did some weeding for you? You worked hard to get your garden to where it’s at. I know it’s important to you.

The best way to help someone in pain is to be present in and with their pain.

It’s hard not knowing what to do or how to be helpful but by being really present and not just staying on the sidelines, you’re doing everything a person needs. You’re validating their pain and experience, making it easier where you can, and reminding your loved one that they aren’t alone.

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That’s all you can do and more often than not, it’s everything.

____

Photo Credit: Albumarium.com

Featured photo credit: Albumarium.com via albumarium.com

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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