Healing Conversations: What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say [NOOK Book]


We're often faced with uncomfortable situations where we're at a loss for words. A friend calls to tell you she's lost her job. A colleague's test results confirm it: he has cancer. The neighbors-who are like family-are moving. Your best friend's mother has Alzheimer's. Your spouse's father suddenly dies; she didn't get to say goodbye. Can you help? Should you help? What would be useful? What kinds of boundaries do we respect or lower? How do we pause to listen between the lines of silence to comfort someone who ...
See more details below
Healing Conversations: What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook - Revised Edition)
BN.com price
(Save 44%)$19.95 List Price
Note: This NOOK Book can be purchased in bulk. Please email us for more information.


We're often faced with uncomfortable situations where we're at a loss for words. A friend calls to tell you she's lost her job. A colleague's test results confirm it: he has cancer. The neighbors-who are like family-are moving. Your best friend's mother has Alzheimer's. Your spouse's father suddenly dies; she didn't get to say goodbye. Can you help? Should you help? What would be useful? What kinds of boundaries do we respect or lower? How do we pause to listen between the lines of silence to comfort someone who is afraid or in pain? Can we ask for what would comfort us when we are the one having a rough time? And are we able to receive it with grace?
Healing Conversations enables us to provide or ask for a new level of support when facing life's inevitable challenges, transitions, and losses-at work, at home, and in our community. It is a practical guide to help you step into someone else's shoes so that you can offer, ask for, or receive comfort. Reflections at the end of each chapter help you think more deeply about how to incorporate the principles of healing conversations and intentional kindness into your life.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

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)
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787966942
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 11/22/2002
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Revised Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 878,261
  • File size: 761 KB

Meet the Author

Nance Guilmartin is a four-time regional Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, business advisor, and community service advocate. As a Westinghouse Broadcasting senior executive, she helped launch national awareness initiatives, including the Designated Driver Program and the For Kids' Sake and Time To Care campaigns. Prior to her television career, she served as press secretary to the late U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas. Her listening skills developed as a young news writer at CBS radio in Boston. Today she challenges organizations and executives to achieve breakthroughs and unlock hidden opportunities.
Read More Show Less

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.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

An Invitation to Healing Conversations.

Getting Started.

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 someone else.

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 the answers.

Unexpected Gifts Accepting help from a stranger.

Before and After the Move Emotional attics and new road maps.

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 Job-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 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 a 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 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?

Reflection: Sometimes There Are No Words.

In the End.

Healing Takes Time.



The Author.


Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)