Advice is one of my least favorite words, but here I am giving it. And unsolicited no less...what next? Should I go kick the dog, step on a crack and who knows, I'll just go wild. But seriously, I think this post a reasonable exception.
A friend told me once, “Leslie, people don’t know what to say to you because they are afraid they will say the wrong thing.”
We have all been in that position, I think. Someone we care about is hurting because of death of a loved one, or illness, or other issues. Unfortunately, there is some reality to the fear of saying the wrong thing. We do it all the time. Imagine for a moment that last time that you went to a funeral. This is a classic time when well-meaning people say all the wrong things.
What is said. . .What is heard
He’s in a better place. . .So be happy for him and stop crying.
God must have needed him more. . . So be brave and stop crying
Do you see what I mean? In trying to be helpful, we may unintentionally negate a person’s right to mourn. It is natural to mourn a loved one when they die, so why does our culture seem inclined to rush people through the process?
In my situation, people often don’t say anything at all. I am left to wonder what they are thinking, and the solution that I fill in can be painful.
The Hardest Easy Advice Ever
So enough preamble, are you ready for the Hardest Easy Advice Ever? The solution for what to say when you want to help, but are fumbling for the right words is: don’t talk just listen.
I’m serious. As in my funeral analogy, we try to give comfort but that makes the person feel pressured to stop mourning. We try to give advice when we don’t even understand the problem. You really can’t go wrong with saying, “Would you like to talk about it?”
I call this the Hardest Easy Advice Ever because I think the need to “do something” is strong in each of us and “just listening” doesn’t feel like enough. But please believe me, listening and validation are my two favorite words.
Sometimes people don’t want to talk about it, in that case, don’t push. Just let them know you are there. There are so many little ways you can let someone know that you care. For me a sincere “how are you?” goes a long way. I have a co-worker that found out I am dealing with past trauma. Now every time (seriously every time) I see him, he stops for a moment and says, “How are you?” in a way that cannot be interpreted as anything but sincere. Sometimes I say, “Really hard day, thanks for asking.”
Then he says, “is there anything I can do?”
I tell him no and reassure him that the simple act of asking means the world to me.
I have another friend that I e-mail when I need a boost. Of course, it is difficult to “just listen” in email, but what he does (that I love) is give me encouragement. His emails always have a tone of “I know you can do this, Leslie.” No advice, just friendship, trust and validation. (Remember validation is my other favorite word.)
The most painful things in our life take time to recover from, during that time you can let the person you care about know you are still there if they do want to talk by: giving a hug, sending a quick email, a phone call or text to say “I was thinking of you”, flowers, or cookies. I used to work for a hotel whose theme was “Little things mean a lot.” There is a lot of wisdom there.
So now it’s your turn. Don’t let anyone in your life feel Invisible just because you don’t know what to say. (Don’t assume someone else will be there…that’s a whole other post!).I believe in you.