Consoling or comforting someone who is in distress can be difficult for some. Not everyone is wired or socialized the same exact way. If you generally feel uncomfortable with strong emotions and have never dealt with someone who is emotional around you, it might feel daunting to encounter someone who is in need of consolation. Showing empathy and offering emotional support for another person do not come naturally to everyone.
But these are very important skills to have in order to navigate through life. Life is hard. Upsetting things happen daily. In order to be a good friend, ally, partner, or family member, it is essential to have skills that show empathy and offer consolation. Below are some tips on how to console someone if you don’t know what to do.
How Much Comfort Should You Offer?
Gauging what the right amount of comfort you should offer another when they are sad, in grief, going through a breakup, dealing with the loss of a job, etc., isn’t always easy. If and when you encounter a person who is sad or in distress right in front of you and they are somebody you know, the most appropriate thing to do is sit with them and listen to what they are going through. The social expectation of one another is empathy and affirmation. If a person is upset over some injustice they are experiencing, all you need to do is listen carefully to what they are saying and reaffirm their thoughts and feelings by echoing back what they say. If they say, “My boss is so insensitive. She doesn’t give me any credit for the work I do!” then you can reply, “That sounds awful. I can’t believe she doesn’t credit you for the work you do,” or “That sounds hard. I wouldn’t like it if someone took credit for the work I did.” Listening and repeating is an effective way to offer the right amount of comfort.
Remember That You Are Not There to Solve Their Problems
In some instances, especially in the case of someone close to you, when they share their life problems, it might feel too personal even to you. If it doesn’t feel too personal and you still feel like you have the answers to their problems, take a minute to stop, breathe, and remind yourself that you are not their problem solver. Offering someone consolation only requires you to listen and support the person talking to you with emotionally empathetic responses. If a person is crying in front of you, bring them a tissue and sit with them until they are finished crying, and you can ask if they’d like to talk about it. It would be wrong to ask, “Who did this?” and immediately try to find vengeance for what caused it. It would also be wrong to tell a person what they are doing wrong and what they should do to correct it.
Giving advice to a person who is upset is not the right thing to do. Remember, problems that we all have will eventually resolve themselves. Our job is not to fix every problem. We’re not capable of that. Our job is to be empathetic and support one another as best as we can and wait out the trying times together.
Is It Appropriate to Give a Gift?
It is appropriate to give a gift to someone who needs consolation and comfort, especially if they’re experiencing a loss. Many people in grief receive flowers, but this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. There are more unique gift ideas you can offer if you think flowers just don’t fit. If a person is grieving, they might not be able to take care of themselves as well as they normally do. You can offer self-care packages, such as gift certificates for a cleaning service that can visit their home to clean for the next few weeks. Offering something as simple as lawn care service could also greatly benefit them.
Don’t Let Fears About Saying the Wrong Thing Stop You
Sometimes we don’t reach out to our friends and loved ones when they are experiencing a difficult time because we are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Remember that people appreciate it when somebody is simply there for them when they are in grief. By being there for them, it can mean just to be present. You can sit with them or be around them in case they need anything. Asking questions about whether they are hungry and would like to eat something helps. Asking if they need anything like a run to the store or completing a simple errand goes a long way. Asking if they want to talk and offering to listen is also very helpful.
Don’t Go Overboard
In our efforts to comfort someone, we can occasionally overstep our boundaries. If this ever happens, it’s okay, but respect others’ boundaries if they say you’re going overboard. One way to not go overboard is to look around and see what others are doing. You can even check and ask another person who is offering the same person consolation during a difficult time what they think might be the right thing to do for them. Sometimes, going overboard might simply be talking too much when your job is to listen to a person going through a hard time.
Remember to Offer Space
With our most good intentions, we can sometimes be overbearing in our efforts to comfort and console someone by missing certain cues. When a person is going through a hard time, they have different ways of coping with it, and this may not always be consistent throughout the entire period. When a person tells you that they are doing okay and would like to be left alone for a while, respect that and give them the space they need. Offering space is also an empathetic gesture. It is part of the whole process of comforting someone. You’re listening and abiding by their request. This is an excellent gesture.
Consoling another person can be daunting if you’re not used to it, but it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s a simple task as long as people remain open to one another. Remember that consolation is a form of communication. The most important thing about this kind of communication is listening. Listen to what the person’s needs are and try to meet them. But keep in mind that you are not necessarily responsible for meeting all their needs. If you’re not up to the task on all their requests, it’s okay to vocalize that. But, oftentimes, all you need to do is listen to someone.