THE BLOG

What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say

02/19/2015 05:40 pm ET | Updated Apr 21, 2015

The human heart is a truly amazing mechanism; so hard working and tough under pressure, but oh so easily damaged.

We all have heartbreaks (I can't even discuss my 7th grade boyfriend saga. A tragedy of epic proportions). Disappointments and suffering and grief and anguish are all part of life. Hooray for us!

We have all heard bad news and immediately gone to that big Rolodex in our head searching, desperately, for the right thing to say. Or we've skipped the search and blurted out something clichéd and trite before quickly excusing ourselves to privately negotiate our own foot into our mouth. Or -- the worst crime of all -- we've been faced with bad news and said absolutely nothing.

Neil Rosenthal writes a stellar column in The Denver Post appropriately titled "Relationships." His January 29th piece highlights the importance of an empathetic response. As Rosenthal points out, a thoughtful response is certainly needed in times of tragedy, but even the day-to-day frustrations that affect us all would benefit from a kind and compassionate acknowledgement.

When dealing with a loss, phrases like: Time heals all wounds or It was his time to go are common. And sort of a cop out. Why? Because they don't really mean anything to the person who is suffering. They are just words. Words that can leave the listener feeling worse than when they started. Because only words that "honor your feelings of loss and sorrow," writes Rosenthal, truly honors the emotions around an issue that causes turmoil.

Rosenthal, referencing How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
written by Pat Love (not kidding) and Steven Stosny, makes a case for how important it is to "step into the puddle" with others. Stepping into the puddle means offering our "heartfelt presence, caring concern and participation" when others need it most. And even when they don't. By employing the puddle technique to everyday life, communication and connection are bound to improve.

So, how exactly does one 'step into the puddle' without getting drenched? By offering statements with a little more meat and a lot less fluff -- like this:

When your spouse walks in after a long day of work, it's temping to pull out the eye roll or the Ha! You think YOUR day was long, well let me just tell you about MY day... instead try saying:
I am so sorry about your day and I am so glad to have you home safe and sound.

When someone is dealing with a death, resist the He's in a better place or Call me if you need anything and try This must be really difficult; I can't imagine what it feels like to lose a sibling. Your brother was one of the funniest men I've ever met -- I still laugh at the fun we had skiing in Vail. How are you handling everything?

Whatever the situation -- death, job loss, hard day at work, tough day at home with children or even the tragedy of a 7th grade break-up, by acknowledging, truly, the heartache of others, we can make a big impact and -- just maybe -- lessen the blow.