Making space to talk: responding with empathy when someone’s struggling

Someone discloses to you they’re having a rough time or they’ve had some bad news. How do you respond?

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Sending hugs”.

“That happened to me”.

We’ve all done it.

It got me thinking about how we shy away from those difficult conversations. How when we don’t know what to say we reach for an old cliché, or pile on the sympathy.

It feels uncomfortable when someone says they’re in pain, especially emotional pain. We cringe at the idea that the conversation might get awkward – so we avoid it.

We change the subject.

Make a joke of it.

Or ignore it all together.

But, if a person feels brave enough to say something is wrong, it’s a big step for them. It takes a huge amount of courage to finally reach out. So what can we do?

It’s okay to acknowledge difficult news with an expression of sympathy. But if we can be there for that person, it’s also okay to connect.

The best way to be sure what someone needs (and not assume we know), is to ask them. And because we must take care of ourselves too, offer them something with the time you have available. Ask the question “What do you need today?”

If they reply that they don’t need anything or even ignore the question, then you’ve still opened a space for them to know that, today, you’re there if they need you.  And it’s okay to just ‘be’ with them, and listen too – if that’s what they say they need.

If you don’t know what to say, say that but acknowledge that it’s good to talk.

The difference between empathy and sympathy – a video voiced by Brené Brown.

You might also like:

Monday Mojo – feel-good motivation for the week ahead, straight to your inbox

Read my article: The Power of Words

Read my article: How are you *really*?

©️Copyright Delphi Ellis

Published by Delphi

Offers "educational side-bars" which may contain uncomfortable conversations. Been on the telly. © All rights reserved.

One thought on “Making space to talk: responding with empathy when someone’s struggling

Want to comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: