What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Say
What do you do when you just don’t know what to say?
Let’s be honest, there’s a huge amount going on in the world that is beyond hideous and a lot of people have no idea what to say.
The fear around getting it wrong and upsetting someone, or being called out, can be incredibly strong and uncomfortable.
This can happen in all areas of life, when something big happens, when someone gives you bad news, when someone tells you about a big health issue, a breakup, when someone is navigating any kind of loss, so many situations that can leave you speechless or on wobbly footing in terms of how to handle it or what to say.
So I thought it would be helpful to do a little dive into how to handle it.
First things first, and something that should be obvious but often isn’t.
It’s totally ok for you to literally say ‘I don’t know what to say, I’m lost for words.’
You don’t have to, and aren’t supposed to have the answers all the time.
You’re allowed to not!
So give yourself a break and allow yourself a little space to be vulnerable and honest. Most people appreciate and respect that.
Pay attention to what’s going on in your body.
It’s really common for people to feel anxiety in moments where they don’t know what to say.
If you notice that coming up for you this is a great moment for you to do a quick breathing exercise before you choose to respond if you have the option to do so, so if you’re replying over text for example.
You can use the 4-7-8-3 technique, in through the nose for 4, hold for 7, out through the mouth for 8 and repeat 3 times.
You can use heart math, around 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out, slower and deeper than you normally would.
If you don’t have a minute or two to do this there are plenty of techniques you can use in the moment. Simply take a deep breath and exhale slowly.
Deep belly breaths through your conversation will also be incredibly helpful.
This will help you be in the right part of your brain to be able to provide the best response.
The stress response will put you into a state of fight or flight and take away your rational thinking processes, which is not what you need.
Using your breath to get you back into a parasympathetic state will allow you to access your prefrontal cortex, which you need for rational, conscious thinking. It will also allow you to be more present.
It’s important to remember, sometimes no words are actually needed. You can simply give someone a hug!
You can even ask someone what they need or how they would like to be supported.
Sometimes people aren’t looking for words of advice or anything to make them feel better, sometimes that’s just not possible and we must recognise a need to jump into ‘fix it’ mode when sometimes there are impossible situations where nothing can be said in the moment to ease the pain or tension.
So simply saying something like, ‘I’m here for you, whatever you need’ or ‘What do you need right now?’
Even just doing things for someone who is struggling to ease the mental load. It can be tricky, or not appropriate, sometimes to ask someone what they need, sometimes they’re totally overwhelmed and they don’t have the words to say how you can help. Only you can judge the situation.
Sometimes jumping into action without words is what’s needed.
Making someone some meals so they don’t have to think about it. Tidying or cleaning the house for them. Running errands or picking up the kids.
Rallying round someone with no words is often incredibly powerful and can mean the world to someone in a crisis.
Ask yourself what YOU might want or need in a similar situation. What would you want to hear?
In terms of things that are going on in the world, if you’re running a business or have a presence online, please remember that you don’t have a responsibility to find words.
You’re probably not a political correspondent or sociologist or someone with full understanding of a situation.
It’s ok to say that. It’s ok to say you don’t understand the whole situation and you’re educating yourself and sharing a reliable resource if you want to. It’s ok to communicate how you feel or literally just say you don’t have the words.
You can simply validate someone’s feelings. You can say something along the lines of, ‘That must be so hard, I’m so sorry’. ‘I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this’. ‘I can’t even imagine what this must be like for you. I’m here for anything you need.’
The crux of it is to listen more than you speak. Ask questions and really hear the answer. Empathise and validate and be honest with your own thoughts and feelings.
Even though I literally have a degree in communication I’ve learned SO much about it in the last 12 months or so and it’s life changing.
Not everyone is going to be able to meet you where you’re at but if you can live with honesty and integrity and open communication you genuinely will change your life and avoid so many uncomfortable situations.
Focus on connection, try to stay out of your head and drop into your body and really just be there with someone or be there with your own thoughts and feelings and pay attention to what you notice.
There are so many situations where ‘I don’t know what to say’ is perfectly ok. It’s honest.
Let go of creating an ‘outcome’ for someone. You don’t need to. It’s such a natural thing for someone to want to change something for someone. It’s worth asking yourself, ‘Am I looking for this outcome for them, or for me?’ It can be confronting for sure but the answer often helps shift our approach in the moment.
If it’s appropriate you can signpost some resources for them. If you don’t feel equipped to talk about something or handle a situation or you feel out of your depth, do some research and find some relevant resources and send it across and say ‘I saw this and thought it might be helpful’. Or if it’s something that helped you or someone you love, ‘I wanted to send this in case it was helpful, it really helped me.’
So many people just want to feel seen and heard.
Remember, no one has all the answers. You don’t have to either.
Fran Excell, Success Mindset Mentor at www.franexcell.com – Helping Business Owners & Executives Overcome Stress & Self Sabotage so they can get back their time, get off the emotional rollercoaster and feel more in control.
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