What do you say?
Your colleague had a baby, and congratulations are in order! But wait – the delivery was very difficult, and there were complications. Now what do you say? Or maybe your boss is leaving your company and you want to strike the right balance of thoughtfulness, professionalism and humour in your farewell message. It’s hard enough to know what to say in happy situations, let alone tricky ones. In almost any situation, a basic “Congrats!” or “I’m so sorry” follows etiquette rules and can suffice when the other person is just an acquaintance, but it often doesn’t feel like enough – especially if you are close to the person or want to build a closer relationship with them.
Rule No 1 of knowing what to say for every occasion: say something. The top etiquette mistake people make when trying to find the right thing to say is getting so hung up on finding the ‘perfect’ response that they end up saying nothing, says etiquette expert Valerie Sokolosky. “We’ve all been there! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled over words, trying to find just the right combination of witty, intelligent and original – and I’ve written whole books about this. It’s not easy, even for the pros,” she says. “But people don’t need a perfect Hallmark quote. They need to know you care – and there are lots of ways to communicate that.”
In both happy and sad situations, your perfectly imperfect ‘wish’ needs just three things, according to psychotherapist, Dr Fran Walfish. It should:
Be appropriate to the situation
Reflect your relationship with the other person
Share a heartfelt, funny or sincere sentiment
No novels or dissertations required!
What should you do when you don’t know what to say?
We often don’t know what to say when the situation is out of our experience or comfort zone, but that is exactly when we do need to say something. “Silence leaves the other person feeling isolated,” says Walfish. “You can simply offer to listen and let them know you’re thinking about them.” Sokolosky adds that it’s OK to admit you don’t know what to say: “Just be honest and then focus on your love and/or concern for them.”