All rights reserved © Melanie Harvard – the uncommon coach TM
There some words which JUST get my goat. If I had one.
They seem okay, on the outside, but really get people down, are useless, destructive and a downright pain in anyone’s ass.
1. YES, BUT – what you are actually saying here is NO. So have the guts to say it. Outright. Yes butters are either passive aggressively avoiding saying no, or don’t have the courage of their convictions and still want to look good while being contradictory. I never listen to anything before the ‘ but’. Only the words after a ‘but’ are what the speaker really wants to say, the rest is just window-dressing.
2. AT LEAST – one of my all-time favourites. Well, you lost both arms and legs, but AT LEAST you’re still alive. Well, you lost your baby but AT LEAST you still have your other kids. And so on. What the “at least” does is completely disregard the actual suffering in front of them. If you want to show empathy and help someone, never ever use these words. It doesn’t show them the ‘bright side’ – it just shows you don’t get it. Instead, just listen, empathise by asking questions and paying attention. You really don’t need to offer a solution or try distract or fix them – just listen, be there, and ask them what they might need.
3. THAT’s NOTHING – I used to be very guilty of this one. One upmanship. I thought by sharing my stories it would show I understood or had been through something similar. I was trying to connect – and didn’t realise how much I was disconnecting. It got so bad and I got such a name for it, I started doing it as a joke. But most people still didn’t get the joke. That’s because it simply ain’t cool, or funny.
When someone is going through something – that event is really unique to them. They are not you. The situation is not yours. If nothing else this is the core lesson we all need to learn.
You can try to put yourself in their shoes and relate it to experiences you have had BUT DON’T blurt it all out. Keep that stuff in your head. At most you can say, “I experienced something similar, and can relate somewhat.”
Don’t think you know what they are really going through. You truly don’t
Don’t get carried away relating your whole life story – park that ego. Let them have some airspace too. You already know your story, but you don’t know theirs – let them tell you and maybe you might learn something. Of course, if someone ASKS you for your story, that’s a different err, story.
Don’t share all your horror stories – it increases their anxiety and listening to this does not distract, it adds to fears and upset. It’s like trying to cheer up a depressed person with pictures of a car accident. When I was pregnant – both times – people’s go-to was to relate every horror story they had ever heard about someone’s bad pregnancy or childbirth. It was so super-helpful – NOT!
IF you have a SUCCESS story – something inspirational, like yes a similar bad thing happened, and they turned it around like THIS, that is the type of thing that might be helpful.
4. Asking judgy questions with YOUR answers in them. Like “Why did you take out that loan?” or “Why did you leave that job?”
These aren’t real questions – they are leading questions with an underlying judgement and a preconceived idea that the person you are talking to is wrong. As judge and jury, and with probably half the facts, you have convicted them.
If you want to really understand and get all the facts – ask open-ended questions like “Can you tell me why?” or “What led to that choice?”
In the end, just listening, parking your ego and judgement, asking unbiased/open questions if you need to understand and showing interest, concern and a willingness to give them what assistance you can, if they specify what they need, is a much better way to keep communication clear, support people and build relationships.
I try to remember the three ZEN word gates:
1. Is it true?
2. Is it necessary?
3. Is it kind (or helpful).
And more often than not, any of the above faux pas are truly not necessary, or kind.