What is the best way to support someone going through a tough time?
Many, many years ago, a colleague lost a loved one. Let's call her Annabelle. I was devastated to hear the news, and I really liked Annabelle, we used to have lunch together, go to yoga classes sometimes, etc. And yet, all I could manage when I heard the news was mumbling some quick condolences. I didn't reach out once after that. Why? What kind of horrible person would do that?
Before judging me and my behaviour, take a moment to remember how you tend to react when someone discloses a personal crisis? I know it's not about you or me, but humour me for a second... How do YOU feel when you hear the heartbreaking news?
I'll speak from personal experience and say that I felt very inadequate in that situation. I didn't know what to say, I didn't know what to do. I was so concerned I would say the wrong thing and felt so powerless, that I did absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, all I could think about was Annabelle! I felt guilty for not knowing what to say or do, guilty for not knowing how to be in the presence of her grief...I felt like an awful human being.
As you may have realised by this point in the article, many of us feel empathy but don't feel equipped to express it with words, or actions for that matter.
So here are a few tips to help you tap in your emotional intelligence when someone is facing hardship:
- Listen: that's right, you don't need to say anything. Don't assume you know what that person is going through or compare it to what you think is a similar situation. Don't volunteer advice. Give them a space, they can decide what they want to do with it.
- Ask, don't assume: instead of assuming there is nothing you can do to help someone navigate any kind of grief, ask them "How can I be there for you?" or "How can I help?". People rarely reach out if we just tell them to reach out if they need to...
- Stay connected: don't stop reaching out because you think you might be bothering them. Can you imagine how isolating it would feel to be going through something and then have the people we are regularly in touch with stop contacting us? If you are sending a text or email, let them know that you are not expecting an answer to avoid adding any pressure to them.