• 8 Awkward Situations: What to Say and How to Deal

    What to say when faced with uneasy situations? Here are suggestions from people who have gone through very tough times.
    by Ines Bautista-Yao .
  • When you learn that someone has been laid off, is recovering from cancer, or has lost a family member, you may find yourself at a loss for words. In your haste to give a proper reaction, you might even find yourself being offensive. The best thing to do is take a deep breath, and remember the advice of those who have experienced these unfortunate situations.

    2 women talking

    Photo from familycouplescounselchino.wordpress.com

    Situation #1: You find out that a friend was just laid off.
    What you say: “Oh no, that’s terrible! They don’t know what they’ve lost!”

    Tomas Soto* did not get his job contract renewed twice in the span of two years. “Friends sympathized with me and seemed angry that my employers would not keep me,” he says.

    What he’d really like to hear: “More words of encouragement like ‘things will get better,’ because after that, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.”


    Situation #2: A friend tells you that she and her cheating husband have separated.
    What you say: “Good for you! You should have left him long ago!”

    When Janice Lobregat* told her friends about her separation, she says, “People were mortified. They asked, ‘How could he have done this to you?’ ‘Ano pa bang hinahanap niya?’ They also expressed genuine concern about how the kids and I were doing. There were many questions about how things erupted and how I found out.”

    What she’d really like to hear: “More genuine concern and fewer prying questions. I didn’t like it when they started asking all of these gossip-type of questions. I was still processing the event, so it didn’t help to dig into the details.”


    Situation #3: A friend says that she has a special child.
    What you say: “Oh, has it been difficult?”

    Anna Hermoso’s* eldest child is sick, and when people find out, she says, “Some are speechless and feel awkward, so they avoid the topic altogether. Others offer words of reassurance, often pertaining to my special child as a blessing or as a lucky charm to the family. At times, they mention someone else they know who has a special child. A few are curious and probe more about my child and his condition.”

    What she’d really like to hear: “I greatly appreciate those who ask questions respectfully and show genuine interest in my child, because it also allows me to introduce him as the person he is rather than just an individual with a condition.”


    Situation #4: Your new friend tells you that she had a sister who passed away.
    What you say: “I’m so sorry for your loss. How are you now?”

    Nica Hechanova, a yoga teacher, lost her older sister 10 years ago. She says, “When people find out, they usually say, ‘I’m sorry. Are you okay?’ Others feel awkward, and I can tell that they don’t know what to say.”

    What she’d really like to hear: “Yes, it may feel awkward because they’re not sure how I feel about my sister’s death, and I don’t expect everyone to understand how it feels. It can be a sensitive topic. I appreciate, though, if others look at me kindly and are sincerely sorry for my loss.”


    Situation #5: You learn that a colleague’s family member is a recovering alcoholic.
    What you say: “Is he okay now? Are you?”

    Sheila Santos’s* dad underwent rehab for alcoholism and sometimes, when people find out, she says, “They ask me if my dad has totally stopped drinking. I know it’s a valid question, but if he is still drinking, then he’s not a recovering alcoholic. He’s still an alcoholic. Then some say, ‘But just a little should be okay.’ Please stop talking about what you don’t know about.”

    What she’d really like to hear: “It would be better if people didn’t pry and just expressed how wonderful it is that he’s recovered and is no longer drinking. I know they’re curious, but they should remember that it’s a sensitive topic.”


    Situation #6: An acquaintance says she lost almost everything to a recent flood.
    What you say: “Did you really lose everything? What were you able to save?”

    Donna Tan* had a five-month old baby with her when the floodwaters began to rise. She wasn’t able to save anything except important documents and a few things for her baby. “What I least liked hearing was, ‘How about your things, they’re all gone?’ It sounded like they were even more nanghihinayang than we were,” she says. “We were just thankful to be alive. Some also asked, ‘Why didn’t you leave before the water rose? Why didn’t you call for help?’ Questions like those don’t help. You have to be sensitive when asking a victim questions, because you don’t really know what happened.”

    What she’d really like to hear: “I appreciated when people just listened to our story even if we’d told it like 50 times. And then we moved on to discuss happier things. At that point, after losing almost all our material possessions, laughter was very much welcome.”


    Situation #7: You find out an old friend has been struggling to get pregnant for years.
    What you say: “Have you tried everything already? You should try what my friend did. It worked.”

    Anne Castro* has been trying to get pregnant for years, and when people find out, she says, “They try to sympathize, and then launch into a barrage of questions like, ‘Have you tried this or that?’ They share stories of people they know who have tried certain methods, or offer unsolicited advice. On a bad day, these responses rub salt to what’s already a gaping wound.”

    What she’d really like to hear: “I appreciate when someone tells me she’ll pray for me to get pregnant. Holding my hand, giving me a tight hug, or placing comforting arm around my shoulder are what I need most.”


    Situation #8: You heard that an officemate had cancer.
    What you say: “Are you okay now? What treatment did you undergo?”

    When people found out Marie Rodriguez* had cancer, she says, “Many were surprised and shocked. A lot were curious and wanted to know how I got sick, how it affected my pregnancy and the baby, and how it felt. Some asked if I became depressed. Others questioned my decision to go back to work so soon after my treatments. It was my way of dealing with what happened to me—to move on and continue living my life.”

    What she’d really like to hear: “The best thing you can do for someone who is sick is to be supportive and sensitive to her feelings. You can tell her you’ll pray for her. Don’t be intrusive and judgmental. Each one has his own way of dealing with his illness and may not be ready to hear certain things. Just be genuine with your words of support.”

    *Not their real names

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