This summer I was on a trip with friends and developed a sinus infection and pink eye. I found myself near the end of my trip, in an optometrist’s office getting an eye exam. The woman taking down my information told me that her sister also had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I responded with silence. Don’t get me wrong. I said “hmmm” is an affirming way, and nodded lovingly but then I said, nothing. My silence did nothing to validate her feelings about her sister’s illness or try to connect with her in any other way. I didn’t know what to say but then I made the mistake of not saying anything.
When you don’t know what to say, saying nothing is not an option.
Here are some tips for when you don’t know what to say:
- hold and sit with what you were told
- don’t try to fix it
- don’t shrug it off or minimize it in any way
- don’t compare it to what you think is a similar personal story
- say you’re sorry
- affirm that what they experienced is hard
- let them keep talking or let them change the subject
That’s it! You don’t have to strategize on how to fix the situation and you don’t have to try and make them feel better. You just have to hold what you’ve heard, nod, and validate that life is difficult sometimes.
What tips do you use when you don’t know what to say?