Saying the right thing is easier than you think

by Lesley on April 11, 2013 · 8 comments

in lessons learned

coffee

If you’ve ever gone through an illness, death, miscarriage, or major financial crisis then you’ve probably experienced someone saying the wrong thing. When Jonathan got diagnosed with cancer we received many kind e-mails, cards and phone calls. But we also experienced some odd and hurtful reactions to his diagnosis including strongly opinionated medical advice from people who have no background in medicine. We also heard too many cliches for our own good.  (Everything happens for a reasonGod doesn’t give you more than you can handleGod is definitely going to teach you something.)

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed piece that I believe should be required reading for anyone over 15 years old. How not to say the wrong thing is short, easy-to-understand, and applicable for so many situations. Does your sister have breast cancer? Read this article. Did your neighbor just lose their dog? Read this article. Is your uncle in a huge law suit that might land him in prison? Say a little prayer, and read this article.

Did you read it? I’m waiting. 🙂

Here’s the summary: when seeing or experiencing a crisis, know your place in the ring. Then, comfort in; dump out.

Comforting someone means saying these types of things:

“I’m so sorry.”

“I’m here to listen.”

“Can I bring you a meal?” (First ask to do a specific and helpful task such as a meal, house cleaning, babysitting, errand, etc. If they say no, follow up by saying, “Is there anything else more helpful I could do instead?”)

“I’m not sure what to say, or how to help, but I just want you to know I’m here for you.”

“If I were in your shoes, I think I’d be feeling ______. Is this how you’re feeling right now?”

And, if you truly believe the person in crisis is in need of advice, say,  “I’m happy to listen, but after helping my husband through his job loss I may have some ways to help. Please let me know if you need specific advice.”

While I think all of us will still struggle to know exactly what to say in moments of crisis, by understanding the “comfort in, dump out” theory, we have a starting point.

Additionally, I think much of this advice is very applicable for first-time mothers. I was really fortunate to have incredible family support when Anna was born but I know not all moms are so lucky. My mom helped in all the right ways, and knew when and how to let me figure things out on my own. But if someone in your life (best friend, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, neighbor) is about to deliver a baby, please remember this “comfort in, dump out” theory. New mamas are at the center of the ring, and everyone else is NOT. Pour love and encouragement on the new mamas in your life, and let them be the ones to decide who visits, how long they stay, and what breastfeeding techniques to try. Basically, “comfort in, opinions out!”

Have you ever said the wrong thing to someone in a time of crisis? Or been the recipient of hurtful advice? From that do you have other ideas for what TO say or NOT TO say in hard times? 

Also:

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Miscarriage Survivor

What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

photo credit: rennes.i via photopin cc

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Share
8 comments
san_in_ca
san_in_ca

Many people shy away from saying anything at all, when just a "I am here to listen" or "Let me know if I can do anything for you" is really enough. (You have to mean it though.)

Jill
Jill

Your blog was recommended to me by the lovely Ashlee Gadd when I told her that I was going through breast cancer treatment at the ripe old age of 32. This post and that article have completely made my day. I hope you don't mind if I mention it on my blog as well. Thank you so much for sharing. I'm so happy to have been led to your blog and look forward to continuing to follow :)

Michelle
Michelle

Lesley, this is so GOOD. On one hand so simple, but so true. Comfort In, Dump out. Sometimes I find it most hardest to comfort when you can't be there in person--- distance makes it hard to drop of a meal or offer to babysit. And even the most heartfelt "I am so sorry" loses something when typed on a screen. Do you agree? When Jonathan was diagnosed with cancer what were some of the most helpful or encouraging emails?

Randi Riggs
Randi Riggs

Thank you for sharing that article! I have a couple of friends going through incredibly difficult times right now and it is always so hard to know what to say.

mitzie gadd
mitzie gadd

I had read that article yesterday, Leslie. Really good! I hate being in the club of something tragic happening, but we will all get there at some point. The most helpful response to my loss has been, "I don't know what to say." This is more helpful than trying to come up with something. A followup with an offer to help in any way means a lot. As unfortunately you know, there is not a whole lot one can say to ease the pain, but there are many attempts at comfort that can make the pain worse.

Tim
Tim

I've certainly stuck my foot in my mouth when talking to someone going through a crisis, and one of the best responses I've received was the time the person said, "You know, that's not really helpful right now." Now it's in my lexicon for when someone says something stupid to me; no matter how well meaning they are they sometimes they need to be told to stop, and that is a fairly neutral phrase to get the point across. When I was going through a career crisis (wrote about it here: http://wp.me/p2EmLc-zy), the best thing I heard was when people would say, "I'm going to help you through this." Every one of those people (except two, who for some reason fell by the wayside) supported me with practical and constructive action as well. So now I've added that one to my lexicon as well for people going through crises: I'm going to help you through this. Blessings, Tim

leslie leyland fields
leslie leyland fields

Lesley! Yesterday someone preached a sermon to me about motherhood when I confessed a certain struggle. I have twice as many kids as she does. Her kids are grown. She had not experienced when I am experiencing .... and yet---there it was, the sermon from a knowing perspective. Wow. Not what I needed. Please let me be human! I know the answers---I have written them myself in a book or two. I just needed a shoulder. Thanks for posting this. Perfectly written, excellent timing.

Emily
Emily

Reminds me of something Dr. Spencer said during a rhetoric class at Westmont: "One of the biggest tragedies of tragedies is what people say right after." I've always remembered that quote...