Friday, December 31, 2010

Dealing with Bad News

More often than we’d like to think, and often when we least expect it, people we know end up getting fired, going into bankruptcy, having accidents, getting indicted, and experiencing the death of a loved one. If it happens to someone you know well, you need to recognize the difficulty and offer your sympathy and—if appropriate—your help. It is less than useless to act as if nothing has happened. Don’t wait for the other person to find an appropriate time to tell you about the misfortune and don’t let the subject become the proverbial elephant in the living room that you both try to ignore.
Instead, be direct. For instance, you might say, “I heard about the fire at your house last week. I’m so glad that you’re all right,” or say, “I was so sorry to hear about Jim’s sentencing hearing. It must be difficult for you.”
If you attend a funeral, express your condolences as directly and simply as possible. You could say, “I’m very sorry about your loss,” or simply say, “I’m so sorry.” On the other hand, you may want to remind the bereaved of some characteristic of the deceased by saying something like “Our office won’t seem the same without Bridget’s daily baseball team updates” or “I’ll miss seeing all her crazy T-shirts.” When someone begins to tell you bad news, be quiet and listen. Your concern will be mirrored in your attentiveness. You can nod and say, “Uh, huh,” until you feel it’s appropriate to add something like “This must be draining for you. I’m so sorry.” Don’t think for a moment that it is helpful or encouraging to compare what your friend is suffering to another situation you’ve heard about or experienced—or to recount an even worse challenge or injury as a way to tell your friend that “it could be worse.” That kind of one-upmanship only makes people feel even more upset. And you can see why. Just imagine that you’re complaining to someone about your severe headache and, instead of sympathizing, she replies, “You haven’t had a headache until you’ve had one of my migraines.”
Nor should you choose this time to express opinions about proper behavior or judgments about people’s character (for example, “Well, if your husband hadn’t cheated on his taxes, he wouldn’t be facing prison, would he?”). And don’t offer unsolicited advice.
Above all, don’t use the opportunity to pry into the other person’s life. At a time like this, you two may reach a level of intimacy unprecedented in your relationship. A casual acquaintance might for a few minutes become uncharacteristically open and candid with you—and might regret it later on. Try to stay within the boundaries that previously characterized your relationship while remaining sympathetic and attentive.

Facing Cosmetic Surgery

Thousands of people will undergo cosmetic surgery this year. Their reactions will fall somewhere between silent confusion and a straightforward willingness to discuss their decision to change their appearance.
More people than ever are electing cosmetic surgery, but today’s motivations often are far different from the erstwhile stereotype of the suburban matron with too much time and money on her hands.
In today’s downsized, competitive job market, many people elect cosmetic surgery for reasons other than vanity. They do it because they are convinced it will further their career.
And with more and more people appearing publicly in various stages of presurgical and postsurgical conditions, the problem of what to say and what not to say arises for both the patient and the friends and acquaintances of the patient. Although most people today are open about having cosmetic surgery, it can still be a touchy topic for conversation. To avoid hurt feelings, follow these suggestions:
  • Never tell a person that he or she is crazy to have cosmetic surgery.
  • Wait until the person opens the subject before you ask whether someone had cosmetic surgery.
  • If you are curious, try saying, “You look wonderful today.” If the reply is that the person had surgery, ask only: “Are you pleased with the results?”
  • Even if pressed, never criticize the results. If you must, you can say: “I see what you mean but only when you point it out.”
  • Never volunteer the names of others who have had cosmetic surgery.
  • Never gossip about the subject.
  • Cosmetic or not, it’s still surgery. Be solicitous about the person’s health and well-being.
  • If you have had cosmetic surgery and look markedly different, make it easier for those around you by opening the door for comments.

The Fine Art of the Compliment

A compliment is a two-way gift. It benefits both the giver and the receiver. Too often, people deprive themselves of the pleasure of giving a compliment when they hesitate and let the moment slip by. Or perhaps the other person is so consistently wellgroomed that we don’t bother to say, “You look great today.” Or someone is so consistently efficient that we fail to say, “Good job.”
When giving a compliment, remember these points:
  • Be sincere. Complimenting someone just because you think it’s a good idea is a bad idea. A phony compliment is easy to spot and instantly destroys the credibility of the speaker. If the luncheon speaker was a total flop, don’t compliment the speech. Talk about the effort the speaker made to attend the function and the person’s past achievements, if any.
  • Be specific. “That was a marvelous casserole” is better than “You’re a terrific cook.”
  • Be unqualified. Don’t make the mistake of damning with faint praise: “That was a good report, considering …” or “This casserole is okay.”
Don’t compare. You can diminish the compliment by comparing the accomplishment to some other achievement—unless you are comparing it to something heroic, and then the compliment sounds insincere.
When receiving a compliment, just smile and say thank you. Never try to shrug off a compliment or disagree with the person who is trying to compliment you. If someone compliments you on your dress and you say, “Oh, this old thing?” you’re actually saying that the other person’s judgment is poor or that she doesn’t know what’s fashionable. If someone compliments you on doing a good job at the office, don’t say, “It was nothing,” or “It should have been more complete (or finished earlier).”
This response is insulting to the other person, implying that his standards are not very high.
“Thanks, I worked really hard on it” is much better.
Here’s another important tip: Never unilaterally upscale a compliment by infusing it with even more praise and enthusiasm than the giver meant to give. For