A few years ago my house was burglarized. I was terribly upset at the theft of a few hugely sentimental items. The next day at my place of work I had colleagues coming into my office all day to commiserate. In most cases, within seconds, I was hearing about a theft that had happened to them or one of their relatives. “ Hey”, I was thinking to myself, “this isn’t about you, it’s about my loss.”
Have you noticed if you tell someone about a recent diagnosis of yours or someone close to you that you frequently end up listening to a comparative story? Their mother/father/sister/cousin had a similar thing, oftentimes worse. Hey, this isn’t about you, it’s about my diagnosis, you may have been thinking.
I wonder if our friends and colleagues are simply trying to find common ground (and their comfort zone?), show that they can relate to the ordeal and therefore share their horror stories. Poor timing. This is the time to listen. This is not the time to share upsetting stories or attempt to one up with the sad stories.
Appropriate responses to some scenarios would be:
- “I’ll cover your calls so you can deal with the insurance company uninterrupted.”
- “How about I take your kids to the museum this weekend with mine so you can spend all day…?”
- Offer concrete ways you can help rather than “Let me know if I can help.” You most likely won’t hear a request.
- Resist the temptation to tell comparative tales.
- Resist the temptation to give unsolicited advice.
We’ve all been in these situations, most likely both sides of these situations. When hearing about someone’s tragedy there are two things to keep in mind:
- It’s not about you.