The #1 Thing to Say Instead of â€œI Know How You Feelâ€
When someone is grieving, so many people around them say â€œI know how you feelâ€ or â€œI know just what youâ€™re going through.â€ The problem, of course, is that they are always wrong. Even if youâ€™ve been through a similar loss and have some clue what grief is like, you are not privy to the particulars of another personâ€™s experience and your assumptions may be be resented.
So what do you say instead? Many professionals in my field teach people to say, â€œI canâ€™t imagine what this is like for you.â€ While that is infinitely better than â€œI know how you feelâ€, itâ€™s still not the best thing to say. In fact, Iâ€™ve found in my extensive work with grieving people that this makes them feel totally alone. It is off-putting and isolating, implying they are such outliers that no one can even begin to imagine what they are going through, nor does anyone care to find out. Though it is intended to be comforting and supportive, it is neither.
Besides, we have pretty active imaginations. In reality, we often shudder or push our own emotions to the periphery because we can indeed â€œimagineâ€ what the experience might be like for ourselves. This is particularly true in tragic situations such as a childâ€™s death, a suicide, or a totally unexpected loss.
With all this in mind, I have revised my teaching. I now recommend that you say one of the following:
- â€œIn a situation like this, I bet that a lot of people have told you they canâ€™t imagine what youâ€™re going through. If you could get into their imaginations, what would tell them?â€
- â€œIâ€™m trying to imagine what this is like for you. What can you tell me that will help me better understand?â€
In both of these cases, you let grieving clients know you recognize the uniqueness of their experience, and yet you arenâ€™t using that as an excuse to push them away. Rather, you draw them in, invite them to talk, and let them know you truly want to understand and support them. Try it the next time you encounter a grieving client, and see what a profound difference it makes.
Then give yourself the benefit of gaining many more skills like this. My 2Â½-day class is coming up September 19 -21 in Chicago. Learn how to walk your clients through death, divorce, retirement, the losses of aging, empty nest, market volatility, being â€œsandwichedâ€, dementia, terminal illness, and more. See details below or go to the web site at www.corgenius.com. Attendees rave about this truly transformative class. Register today to reserve your spot, and come join us!