What to Say (and What NOT to Say) When Dealing with Highly Emotional People

Listening isn’t just about saying the right thing at the right time.

It’s also about NOT saying the WRONG thing at the WRONG time.

LESSON LEARNED: In highly emotional situations, be careful not to fall into the trap of rote responses.

They often come off as insincere and patronizing. And while you may THINK you’re listening, you’re actually doing more damage than if you had said nothing.

I call these rote responses “You’re Not Helping” Phrases.

Because that’s exactly what they do – detract from the effectiveness of your listening practice. And especially when you’re dealing with a person who’s upset, angry, suffering or highly emotional, you want to respond as authentically as possible.

Here are five categories of “You’re Not Helping” Phrases to avoid, along with suggestions of what TO say instead…

1. PLATITUDES: If it sounds like something you might see on a bumper sticker, church bulletin or on the Hallmark channel, don’t say it.

For example:

o All thing work together for the common good…
o God will take care of it.
o It will be all right.
o It’ll all work out.
o It’s probably for the best.
o It’s time to get on with your life.
o Just have faith.
o Look on the bright side…
o There are other fish in the sea.
o Things will get better.
o We all have bad days sometimes.
o You have to be patient.

INSTEAD, SAY: “That must be difficult,” or “Wow.”

2. MINIMIZERS: These phrases show you don’t comprehend the seriousness, enormity or respect the full emotions and efforts of the situation.

Avoid saying:

o Are you sure you’re trying hard enough?
o Everything will be OK.
o Get over it.
o It’s not that bad.
o Just forget it and move on.
o Just give it time.
o I’m sure your husband didn’t intentionally run over the cat with the lawn mower.
o Oh, cheer up!
o Snap out of it!
o Things could be worse.
o You’ll find someone else.
o You’re making too much of a fuss about this.

INSTEAD, SAY: “Well, then what’s next?” “You’re right,” and “You have a right to feel that way.”

3. EMPTY PROMISES: These phrases are non-specific and, therefore, non-meaningful.

Steer clear of saying:

o Call if you need me.
o I’ll be here…
o Let me know if I can help.
o Let’s have lunch sometime.
o We’ll have to get together sometime…

INSTEAD, SAY: “Let’s chat tomorrow afternoon on the phone,” “Would you like to have lunch next week?”

4. SHOULDS, ADVICE & CONVO-STEALERS: When people are emotional, they don’t want advice. They want someone to listen to them. They want someone to just BE there. What’s more, they don’t want you to steal the conversation.

Avoid saying:

o A friend of mine once…
o Dude, I am the SAME way…
o Have you tried…?
o Here’s what you should do…
o One time I…
o That reminds me of…
o That’s like when I was…
o That’s nothing! Let me tell you about…
o The same thing happened to me when…
o Yeah! Me too! It’s like that one time last year when MY dog…
o You should have known better.
o You shouldn’t feel that way.
o You shouldn’t have done that.

INSTEAD, SAY: Try suggesting nothing. Just listen. Remember, it’s not a performance.

5. FALSE EMPATHY: Certain phrases sound like nice things to say, but in actuality, they’re total lies.

Avoid these falsehoods:

o I know how you feel.
o I’m SO sorry.
o You look great!
o You know, I’ve been through the same thing.

INSTEAD, SAY: “Look, I have NO idea what you’re going through, but I’m still here for you,” and “You know, I might not be able to understand, but what I CAN do is listen.”

REMEMBER: When listening, the last thing you want someone to think is, “Yeah, you’re NOT helping.”

Watch your words. Regulate your rote responses. Steer clear of platitudes, minimizers, empty promises, shorthand listening techniques and false empathy.

And you WILL help.

Are you words helping or hindering this highly emotional situation?

For the list called, “17 Behaviors to Avoid for Effective Listening,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

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