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8 Common Yet Ignorant Ways To Comfort A Person

8 Common Yet Ignorant Ways To Comfort A Person

When someone opens up to us about the struggles they are facing in their life, it can be tough trying to avoid the same tired old platitudes. When we sympathize with someone, we are acknowledging that they are suffering. This sounds great, but is actually insufficient if you really want to help someone through their problems. What people need during tough times is your empathy – the ability to enter into their pain with them, remain non-judgemental, and respect what they are feeling without trying to impose your own opinions. This can be tricky, because many of us were raised to be sympathetic rather than empathetic.

So, what shouldn’t you say when comforting someone who is facing emotional or psychological pain? Read on to find out what phrases you ought to avoid, and how you can demonstrate a more empathetic response instead.

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1. “At least…”

Do not minimize someone else’s suffering by saying something like, “Well, your marriage may be falling apart, but at least you have a partner!” These kind of responses divert attention away from the other person’s actual pain.

2. “Cheer up!”

The last thing anyone feeling low needs to hear is to be told to “cheer up.” Human emotions just don’t work like that – and if you truly attempt to understand someone else, you’ll know this to be the case. When was the last time anyone telling you to cheer up actually helped? Exactly! A much better approach is to respect the other person’s emotions.

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3. “Give yourself a deadline!”

Sometimes well-meaning people suggest setting a grieving or anger “deadline.” They may say something like, “Give yourself a couple of months to get over it,” or even, “It’s been six weeks now, why aren’t you over your breakup/miscarriage/etc.?” This approach overlooks the fact that everyone’s emotional processes are different, and what may be a small blip for one person may be a big deal for another.

4. “You’re so lucky compared to others!”

Yes, it can be a good idea to count one’s blessings from time to time. However, it isn’t helpful to hear this when you’re in the midst of emotional pain. Such phrases overlook the very real problems someone is facing in the present.

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5. “Let’s not talk about that any more, it’s depressing.”

If you find it hard to handle what you are hearing, find a polite way to excuse yourself from the conversation. Do not, under any circumstances, just tell the other person that you should talk about something more uplifting! It isn’t their job to bend in accordance with your wishes.

6. “Just keep busy.”

Another common piece of advice given to people undergoing emotional turmoil or depression is to “keep busy.” The trouble with this advice is that during difficult times it can be immensely hard to concentrate on “keeping busy” in the first place. In addition, distractions don’t make the underlying problem go away. Therefore, this suggestion is inappropriate.

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7. “I think what you should do is…”

A significant element of empathy is being able to remain non-judgemental towards the person who is telling you about their troubles. When you start trying to give advice or even telling them how to run their life, you are not being empathetic – you are merely being annoying and insensitive. Whilst you may want to “fix” this person, the more helpful response is simply to let them talk about whatever it is they are dealing with and to trust that they will discover a solution that works for them.

8. “Let me tell you about my experience…”

It can be tempting to try and relate someone else’s experiences to your own life history, but think carefully before telling them your own story. Do not dominate the conversation and make it all about you. Keep your attention on the other person, and if you have a past experience that you think may be relevant, ask them whether they would like to hear it before launching into an anecdote.

More by this author

Jay Hill

Jay writes about communication and happiness on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

Builds Workers’ Skills

Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

Boosts Employee Loyalty

Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

Strengthens Team Bonds

Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

Promotes Mentorship

There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

1. Listen First

Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

You could say:

  • “Help me understand your thought process.”
  • “What led you to take that step?”
  • “What’s your perspective?”

2. Lead With a Compliment

In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

You could say:

  • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
  • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

3. Address the Wider Team

Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

You could say:

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  • “Let’s think through this together.”
  • “I want everyone to see . . .”

4. Ask How You Can Help

When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

You could say:

  • “What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can I make your life easier?
  • “Is there something I could do better?”

5. Give Examples

To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

You could say:

  • “I wanted to show you . . .”
  • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
  • “This is a perfect example.”
  • “My ideal is . . .”

6. Be Empathetic

Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

You could say:

  • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

7. Smile

Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

8. Be Grateful

When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

You could say:

  • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
  • “We all learned an important lesson.”
  • “I love improving as a team.”

9. Avoid Accusations

Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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You could say:

  • “We all make mistakes.”
  • “I know you did your best.”
  • “I don’t hold it against you.”

10. Take Responsibility

More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

You could say:

  • “I should have . . .”
  • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

11. Time it Right

Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

12. Use Their Name

When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

You could say:

  • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
  • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

13. Suggest, Don’t Order

When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

You could say:

  • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
  • “Try it this way.”
  • “Are you on board with that?”

14. Be Brief

Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

15. Follow Up

Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

You could say:

  • “I wanted to recap . . .”
  • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
  • “Did that make sense?”

16. Expect Improvement

Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

You could say:

  • “I’d like to see you . . .”
  • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
  • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
  • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

17. Give Second Chances

Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

You could say:

  • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
  • “I’d love to see you try again.”
  • “Let’s give it another go.”

Final Thoughts

Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

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Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

Reference

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