Today’s Tip: What Not to Say (Borrowed from The Marshall Memo)
Therapist Anthony Smith suggests avoiding three phrases when working with people:
• I understand This may confirm you are listening but the other person might take it to mean that you’ve had a similar experience and know how to solve the problem. When that turns out not to be true, the person can feel disappointed, even irritated. Better to say, “I recognize…” or “I can see…”
• There’s not much we can do about that. Again, this statement is an attempt to ground the other person in reality and accept that some things just can’t be changed. But these words can increase anxiety, hopelessness, and despair. Better to help the person develop strategies for managing the situation in the best way possible.
• You just have to… This implies that the solution is obvious – but if solving the problem were easy, the person would have done that already. The word just is the trigger here (as in Just calm down when a person is really upset or Just suck it up when they’re at their wits’ end). All these minimize the seriousness of the problem and can come across as patronizing. The key is to help the person figure out a better way to address or cope with the problem.