Healing Conversations: What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say

Overview

In today's relentless 24/7 world, this revised edition of Healing Conversations is a communications first-aid kit for difficult and troubling times. Filled with touching stories, it serves as an everyday resource to offer, accept, or ask for comfort when facing life's inevitable challenges. Whether you are at a loss for what to say, what to do, or simply how to be when you're responding to transitions, losses, or awkward moments, Healing Conversations is a wise and useful guide....

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Healing Conversations: What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say

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Overview

In today's relentless 24/7 world, this revised edition of Healing Conversations is a communications first-aid kit for difficult and troubling times. Filled with touching stories, it serves as an everyday resource to offer, accept, or ask for comfort when facing life's inevitable challenges. Whether you are at a loss for what to say, what to do, or simply how to be when you're responding to transitions, losses, or awkward moments, Healing Conversations is a wise and useful guide.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
A public relations veteran from business, television, and politics, Guilmartin offers true stories to help readers learn to step into the shoes of someone in pain or discomfort and help them shed new light on their problem. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470603550
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 5/17/2010
  • Edition description: Revised Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 806,678
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Please, Don't Ask Me How I Am, Unless...

Beginning a healing conversation

How are you?

We ask that question all the time. It's usually a polite little greeting, just another way of saying hello. But we may not realize that this innocent-sounding greeting can cause stress for people who are going through difficult times. In these instances, it's important for us to be aware that when we ask that question, we need to consider if we're really willing to hear whatever the answer might be.

I had an unforgettable conversation with a woman whose mother was very ill. Maria's father had died a few months earlier, and her mother was at the point in her illness where she had signed a living will and was refusing life support. Maria's brother didn't agree with this decision. Maria was spending her days holding her brother's hand and comforting her mother. In the midst of all this, people were asking her, "How are you?"

"What goes through your mind is this," Maria explained. "You really want to know how I am? I'll tell you how I am. I feel like I'm losing it most of the time! I want to scream at my brother, scream at the doctors. I feel sad and empty. I've got to deal with medical policies, insurance, hospital administrators, my family, my mom, and somewhere in there my so-called normal life. So tell me, just how do I answer this question? Do I tell you how I really am? Or do I do what most of us do and smile or grimace a little and sigh, 'Oh, I'm fine, holding up.' Do I just keep the conversation flowing past any sticky points of emotional meltdown?"

Maria continued explaining how difficult it was for her to knowwhat to say when people wanted to know how she was doing. "I know they mean well, but do you know what often happens? If I start to tell them how I really am, they interrupt and try to make me feel better by telling me their stories. Sometimes they want my sympathy for them. Sometimes they give me advice. Sometimes they try to take over and fix things. Sometimes they say, 'Oh,' and change the subject.

"What's hard is that I figure it's OK to say 'I'm fine' to the folks I don't really know, because I don't feel it would be fair to burden them with the truth. But with close friends, I'd like to be straight. Instead, sometimes I feel that it's my job to keep them from feeling too bad about what's happening with me. Most days, I say as little as possible and figure that no one really wants to know how I am. It would be too depressing, and they'd feel that they'd either have to walk away or try to fix things for me. All I really want is for people to listen to me. Not to fix. Not to advise. Not to tell me their stories yet. To be a harbor where I can bring my boat in and toss about and eventually settle down for a while."

Sometimes people want to talk and unload all the overwhelming, scary, frustrating stuff that's happening. Sometimes people would rather share a little silence with you. Other times it's nice for them to be able to say, "Right now I don't really want to talk about it--maybe later--but thanks for asking."

Struggling with "How are you?" can present an overwhelming number of choices of what to say and what not to say. It sounds like such a little thing, to avoid asking someone such an open-ended, all-encompassing question like "How are you?" To signal that you are open to hearing back from them something more than a weary "Fine," you can try "Do you want to talk about anything that happened today?" Or "Is there anything I can do to support you after the day you've had today?" Or "I don't know what to say right now, but I'd like you to know I care about you. Is there anything you want to talk about?"

People in difficult situations appreciate it when you don't ask them to give you the big picture. That's why asking them a question about how things are at this moment is easier than asking them how they are. Focusing in on the smaller picture enables them to tell you, "Well, at this moment, I'm OK; yesterday was rough, though." Or they could respond by saying something as straightforward as "Right now I could use a nap and a neck rub."

Another way to make an opening connection is to just let them know you care and that you aren't seeking information at all. You can tell them: "You've been in my thoughts." Or "I wish I were there to give you a hug, help you pack, take you where you need to go." Or "I've been trying to think of a way to support you. Would this help... ?"

Once the conversation is open, you might wonder what to say next. Remember that conversation isn't always a back-and-forth exchange, taking turns to talk and listen. It's not just about you being quiet so that then you can say what you've been thinking about while the other person was talking. Healing conversations are about pausing to tune in to what others need or want to say and what, if anything, they are able to hear from you at that moment. Healing conversations also make room for comfortably sharing silence.

There's another factor to consider when you want to take a healing conversation to the next level. Consider your relationship to the person. Sometimes the fact that you know each other well may make the person feel more comfortable in being blunt with you. Oddly enough, sometimes it will make the person feel too vulnerable. Don't assume you know which way someone else will feel. When you don't know someone well, you may actually be able to provide what is needed most: compassionate listening without judgment. If you are uncertain of how deep to get into a conversation with someone you don't know well, just pause and acknowledge, "I don't know you very well, but I'd like to do whatever I can to support you, even though I'm not sure what that would be. I'm willing to try." If you know the person well, you might take the conversation to the next level by reflecting what you sense your friend is feeling, not just what was said.

When people are having a rough time, usually the first question we ask them is "How are you?" because we think it's a way to open up the conversation and to show that we care. Here's another way to look at it: if you are trying to comfort people who are dealing with difficult situations, they will bless you for not making the "How are you?" question the first one. Ask about their work or their family or about almost anything else to give them a little relief from once again explaining what a rough time they are having getting through this trying experience. They want to be treated like whole individuals, not just as people in a challenging situation that is taking over their identity. Perhaps after listening carefully for a while, you may not even have to ask how they are because they will have told you in their own way.

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Table of Contents

An Invitation To Healing Conversations

Getting StartedÂ…Supporting others without fixing, rescuing or judging

When You Need A Friend
Please, Don't Ask Me How I Am, Unless.......Beginning a healing conversation
Using The Rule of Six..............................................................Asking for help
Just Listen..........................................................................After a sudden loss
Rediscovering Empathy.....................What comforts you may not comfort them
It'll Be OK, Sugarplum...............................Being a light at the end of the tunnel
Mommy, Will He Be OK?...............Helping children face their fears and yours
Asking One Friend To Help Another..................When you don't have answers
Unexpected Gifts..............................................Accepting help from a stranger
Before and After The Move.......................Emotional attics and new roadmaps
It's Not What You Think..................................The hidden hurts of bankruptcy
Who Am I If I'm Not Who I Was?..........................After a life-changing event
It's Over............................................................................A relationship ends
Reflection: Tuning out of your head, tuning in to your heart

Health Matters
Test Results...............................................Getting the news or waiting to hear
Peaceful Warrior..........................When you want to help deal with a diagnosis
Facing Surgery...........................................................Before, during, and after
Just How Do You Ask For Help?............................Making your own wish list
Paciencia...............................................................Recovering from depression
Is The Doctor In?........Making the most of your time as a patient or as a doctor
What's The Difference Between A Cure And Healing?..Living with chronic pain
What About Me?.......................................................Supporting the caregiver
Second Sight............................................When a disability becomes an ability
When The Bough Breaks...................................When you can't see their pain
The Bear........................................................................................Close calls
After The Accident.....................................................................Fears remain
A Cry For Help.............................................Responding to attempted suicide
Reflection: How to be with someone who's in pain

Healing Conversations At Work
You People Are Incompetent!..............Turning angry customers into loyal fans
When Staff Don't Get Along..........................................The power of listening
Trading Places...........Helping a colleague pause before jumping to conclusions
You Must Be Kidding!.............................Giving and getting difficult feedback
Plant Closings And Pink Slips.........Taking away their jobs but not their dignity
Trapezes........................................................Being laid off, fired, or acquired
Bad News At The Office.....................................Crossing invisible boundaries
Celebrating Life...................Asking a coworker for help with a family dilemma
I Just Wanted To Let You Know I Cared....................Consoling an employee
Honoring Paul Tsongas....................Coping with death in the workplace family
Notes To Keep a Memory Alive..................................A letter to the children
Reflection: Maybe it is my jobÂ…Intentional Kindness

Transitions: Heart, Mind, Body and Soul
We're Getting Divorced.................Appreciating what you may not understand
Be a Friend, Not A Hero...................Helping someone deal with verbal abuse
I Don't Want to Be A Burden.........................Supporting the widowed spouse
Splinters, Mice, and Little Things..........When someone is learning to live alone
Broken Hearts and Burnt Offerings..........When a gift offers a reservoir of care
What Is Enough?....................................................Retirement as a way of life
What Happens When You Show Up For Class?............Lessons from an elder
I Know Her Name.......................................................Living with Alzheimer's
The Long Goodbye..................................................When death takes its time
He Knows He's About to Die..................................Visiting a friend in hospice
Anniversaries Of Loss.............................................Special dates to remember
Reflection: Being with their silence-and yours

Lost Loves
Leo the Cat.............................................Putting a "four footed angel" to sleep
When You Don't Get the Chance to Say Goodbye.............Unfinished feelings
It's A Blessing, Really.............................................When a death brings relief
Take A Friend To Lunch..................................................Writing the obituary
Oh, Damn! Did Anybody Bring A Knife?...............................Scattering ashes
Best-Laid Plans...................When last wishes clash with the needs of the living
When Mom Leaves.................................................................A gift of poetry
After The Funeral.....................Appreciating behind-the-scenes responsibilities
When A Young Child Dies..............................A parent's bewilderment lingers
Frail Submarines.............................................When someone chooses suicide
When Tragedy Inspires Action..........................Responding to a sudden death
Grief Unburied...........................................................Sorrow returns in waves
Perhaps......................................................................Is this heaven on earth?
Sometimes There Are No Words

In The End
Healing Takes Time

Appreciations
Resources
Subject Index

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2002

    Healing Conversations

    This is a dual purpose book: read it now and appreciate its wisdom and clarity. You may, perhaps, give a copy to a friend in need. Then place it in your personal library among the reference books (yes, right there with the Medical Encyclopedia and the Home Maintenance Guide), where you'll know you can find it when the ineveitable times come that you need help with helping others.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2002

    What a wonderful book!

    Nance Guilmartin's Healing Conversations, teaches us that listening is the key in having a conversation. Life would be wonderful if we could all walk away from a conversation feeling better, whether the conversation is work related or personal. Being a cancer survivor, I know that a lot of people mean well when they give you advice on what to do - but most of the time you need them to just listen. Nance has used wonderful stories for all different types of situations to illustrate how we can do this. I reccomend this book as a guide to communication - and a wonderful gift for someone who is going through a difficult time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2002

    User Friendly

    'Healing Conversations' is a wonderful 'user-friendly' tool! As co-director of a music program for children and their families, serving over 700 families a semester, I have had many opportunities to put the ideas and suggestions contained in these pages to work! After reading only a few chapters, which can be read out of sequence or straight through, I found myself starting to think harder about how to listen more and try to 'fix less!' The lessons learned and related in the book are easy to understand and identify with, and offer many practical ideas on how to become a better friend, mate, boss, or colleague, by learning to pause and really hear what someone is trying to say! My husband is reading it now!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2011

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