Sometimes we have the best intentions and yet those “good intentions” actually make matters worse instead of better. Most of us have witnessed or felt the power of others’ good intentions on us and ours on them. But have we stopped to consider the power of our intentions, kind or unkind? Today’s post is about some of the ways our well-meaning ways may be going awry.
#1 Saying “Let me know if there is anything I can do.
How many times have we heard (or uttered) this? While it’s a lovely thing to say, it puts the pressure on the other person to ASK for help. It may make you feel better because you OFFERED, but your friend in a crisis is too overwhelmed to remember that you did.
A better option: Take action! Drop off a dinner, pick kids up from school, go over and clean (or send a cleaning service), or help organize friends and neighbors to do whatever needs to be done. Take a cue from Nike and “Just Do It.”
#2 Indulging in back-handed compliments.
A couple of oldies, but not-so-goodies, that come to mind:
“You look great for your age.” — Nix the “for your age”…try “You look great!” Period.
“Have you lost weight?” — The implied unsaid words….”because you needed to.” I realize that’s not always the case, but it’s a tricky one. A better alternative, “You look happy and healthy!” Every person wants both of those things.
“Has anyone ever told you that you look just like [insert celebrity name here]? — Not every famous face is universally admired. I have a nephew who is a dead-ringer for Wil Farrell and HATES when people tell him that. Think twice.
#4 Apologizing for no reason.
“I’m sorry the house is a mess;” “I’m sorry I overcooked the steaks on the grill;” “I’m sorry for not calling you back.”
No one wants to be told how to feel, so a pre-emptive apology can seem controlling and off-putting. If someone is upset, wait for them to tell you, then apologize.
#5 Nursing your GUILT.
It’s OK to feel guilty about something and try to correct it, but then you have to let it go. When it drags on, guilt usually gets mixed up with shame and becomes more about who you are than what you did. Once a situation is properly addressed, guilt does absolutely nothing for you except cause pain.
#6 Indulging in these well-meaning but misguided zingers…..
“You’re so much better off without him/her!” — Umm….newsflash….people get back together! Can you say awkward? This also implies that the person just “get over it” which is just annoying! Other phrases to avoid: “I never liked him/her,” or “He/she was the worst!”
“When the timing is right, it will happen.” — This is usually said when referring to infertility issues…a touchy subject if there ever was one! This phrase is probably one of the worst you can use when talking to someone dealing with it. Chances are “That is not fair” is all she wants to hear.
#7 Answering questions for your kids.
It may create a moment of social awkwardness, but kids need to learn that their parents don’t solve all their problems for them. Let your child struggle a bit. For example, resist answering for him or her when a waiter asks them how old they are. Watching them wrestle with shyness can be painful, but it’s better for them in the long term.
#8 Offering unsolicited advice.
Often, people know what they want to do or should do. They’re coming to you to feel understood and cared for, not because they want you to give them a solution. As they talk about their predicament, listen rather than try to control the conversation.
People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. Often, people know what they want to do or should do. They’re coming to you to feel understood and cared for.
Unless someone asks for advice, don’t give it. Instead say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “Here’s what I would do if I were you.”
#9 Encouraging your partner to lose weight.
Suggesting that a partner should lose weight or diet implies that the partner is overweight, unattractive, not sexy anymore, etc., which can be a painful message to hear. Hurtful comments, even if well-intentioned, may contribute to poor body image and unhealthy eating behaviors.
Chances are more than good that those who are overweight know it! They know donuts have more calories than celery. People who are constantly urged to diet and lose weight sometimes go out of their way to overeat, a kind of rebellion against their partner.
A better option: emphasize health rather than appearance, and focus on adopting a healthier lifestyle rather than dieting.
#10 Not understanding “The Ring Theory.”
I read about this theory by clinical psychologist Susan Silk in the LA Times a couple of years ago and thought it was brilliant!
It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, even romantic! She calls it the Ring Theory and it works like this:
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For example, someone who has recently been diagnosed with an illness. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. For example, the significant other of the person diagnosed.
Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones.
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it.
If you want to scream or cry or complain, that’s fine. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.
Comfort IN, dump OUT. Don’t just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.
Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you’re talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.
And don’t worry. We’ll all get our turn in the center ring. We can count on that. :-/