You know when you tell someone your experience, and instead of listening, they tell their own story which caps yours? I have a friend who describes it like this - if you've been to Tenerife, they've been to Elevenerife.
One way in which many people try to demonstrate empathy with someone who has been bereaved is by sharing their own stories of loss. This is not the time for your Elevenerife story.
Even though it is a well-intentioned act, it has the affect of moving the spotlight onto you, and not allowing the person who is grieving to express their own experience. There is a danger, also, that it becomes almost a competition – who has the worst loss, who recovered the quickest, what awful thing did someone do or say?
To the grieving employee, your story does not communicate empathy. It communicates that you are assuming that you know how they feel, when you cannot, and do not have any idea of what they are feeling. To suggest that you do know how they feel can come across as presumptuous, arrogant and even offensive.
So what can you say instead?
It is far better to acknowledge that you don’t know how they feel. You can even say so, in exactly those words.
“I can’t imagine how you are feeling right now.”
Madeleine Allen is a human leader in a corporate world. She delivers training in Soft Skills with Hard Benefits, enabling leaders to be compassionate AND profitable.
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