How to Respond When You Don’t Know What to Say

June 3, 2020 , Jennifer Severson

It’s our responsibility at Big Brothers Big Sisters to stand beside our community and BBBS volunteers, youth and their families to ensure they have the support and resources necessary to mentor and inspiring our youth to reach their potential.

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll have opportunities to come together to discuss the George Floyd tragedy and to address the issues that continue to challenge and divide our community. Until then, we encourage meaningful conversations with children and others about important topics like diversity, equity and inclusion.

When someone opens up to you and shares what’s going on in their life and how they’re feeling, the absolute best thing you can do is listen.

  • Pause, listen to learn, and affirm. Be authentic by genuinely acknowledging what you’re feeling.
    • “I know I could never understand your experience, but please know that I care about you and your family and want to support you.”
    • “Thank you for sharing and trusting in me.”
  • Affirm what you’re hearing
    • “It sounds like your family is finding ways to connect and talk.”
    • “I can hear how much you care.” 
    • “Wow, that’s a lot to juggle right now.”
    • “That sounds so scary/frustrating/unsettling.”

Avoid these pitfalls.

  • Saying “I understand” diminishes another’s personal perspective.
  • Being dismissive and quickly moving on or changing the subject.
  • Making judgments and giving advice on what the other person should or should not do or feel.
  • Challenging another person’s feelings and trying to show them they are wrong in how they feel.
  • Making it about yourself. Be aware of whose story is being told.

For additional tips and information, watch our “Navigating Big Reactions” video.