I was moved by Adam Grant’s and Sheryl Sandberg’s Four mistakes we make when comforting friends who are struggling written for USA Today. So much so that I summarized the mistakes below for easy future reference:
- Encourage positivity instead of feelings. Time doesn’t necessarily heal all things, especially death. Research indicates asking how grievers feel improves welfare better than well-intentioned but frustrating calls to “chin up.”
- Insert your own story instead of acknowledging theirs. “When you’re faced with tragedy,” writer Tim Lawrence notes, “the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words: I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you.” Never volunteer your own experience, even if you think it’s the same. If they want to hear it, they’ll ask.
- Give unsolicited advice. Instead of offering advice, simply say, “I wish I knew the right thing to say. I’m so sorry you’re going through this — but you will not go through it alone.”
- “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Don’t say this. Although often sincere, this phrase puts the burden on grievers. Instead of offering anything, author Bruce Feiler recommends, “just do something.” Invite them over for a holiday dinner. Make a playlist of songs that aren’t about joy or snow. Drop off a home-cooked meal. You don’t have to be best friends to help someone. Just do something without asking.