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Posted on 06.15.2011

Communicating When There Are No Words

As I frequently say, I got into the business of strategic public relations because I firmly believe that communicating is at the heart of absolutely everything that succeeds.  Whether it’s the relationship with your spouse, your children, your boss, your customers … whatever … it is impossible to succeed without communicating.  And the better you do it, the better the outcomes. While our focus is essentially on boosting brands and improving reputations of businesses and other organizations, my message today has to do with the most painful kind of communication – talking to someone when they are seriously ill and, perhaps, fighting the battle of their lives. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”  Or I’ve earnestly but uselessly said, “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”  What else is there to say when you know there is nothing you can do except wish and hope and pray? Recently a N.Y. Times article struck a chord with me, and I’ve had it on my mind. The gist is that we really don’t need to “say” anything and that the best way to communicate may actually be to say nothing but, “I am sorry.”  Then really do something.  Stop by and take out the trash, wash the dishes, do a load of laundry.  I was most struck by the point that if you ask someone to let you know if there is anything you can do to help, it puts the burden on them….exactly what they don’t need. So the moral is, if you want to demonstrate your sincere concern for someone who is ill, don’t rely on words or pat sayings that can actually be disheartening to the person you’re trying to comfort.  Just get up and do something to show you understand the exhausting challenge being faced everyday by your friend or family member. Because when someone is ill, doesn’t look good, and is facing the fight of their lives….there usually just aren’t the right words.  

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