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What Do You Do When Someone Is Going Through A Crisis?

November 17, 2019

Several years ago, I had an uncle die of cancer.

On my way to the funeral, I was thinking of what I could say to my cousins and aunt that would make them feel better.

I couldn't come up with anything.

It was such a sad thing, I didn't know what to say.

To my surprise, my aunt approached me at the meal afterwards and told me that she was glad that I came. She told me that just by my being present, I had made my cousins feel better.

I wasn't expecting this.

My entire life has been about obsessively answering the question "How can I change myself and others?"

In the pursuit of asking that question, I had stored many concepts and ideas in my head about the psychology of change. But here I was confronted with a new idea:

It is possible to change others just by being present.

Nothing to do. Nothing to say.

What do you say to someone going through a crisis?

How can you make someone feel better when they are in pain?

I used to think there was some "right" answer to questions like these.

Like I just needed to read a book with a step-by-step method:

  1. First say this.
  2. Then this.
  3. Now, do this.
  4. Everyone is happy.

As a personal and professional coach, I get calls every week where someone is going through a personal crisis of some kind.

Financial, health, family, relationships, and so on.

Sometimes the calls are intense. Other times they are more quiet and pensive.

When I first started coaching, I judged my performance on how well I could handle someone going through a really difficult situation.

I felt like these were my big make-or-break moments.

If I could talk my client out of their pain, or into some sort of clarity, then I was doing well. If I couldn't come up with the right words to say, I failed.

At my uncle's funeral I thought the only way I could be a positive impact on my family would be to do or say the right things. I was wrong.

Here's what I've found over the years:

It doesn't matter what you say. It just matters that you're listening.

When someone is going through something difficult, they're likely not even open for advice or your thoughts. Their heart-rate is high. Their adrenals are pumping. Their mind is heavy.

They just want someone to hear them. To be with them. To see them.

Now, when I find myself in these situations each week, the first thing I do is throw awaymyagenda. I listen, and I know that if I don't say the perfect thing at the perfect time, it's ok.

It's enough to just be there.

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