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June 30, 2012 at 11:04 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Consoling a Friend: The 5 Most Important Ways To Show You Care

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Recently, my car broke down. Complicating maters, it was a rental and I was in a foreign country. In fact, I was in yet a different country than the one I had rented the car in. 

My family and I were stranded and helpless, asking for help over the phone in three different languages. As I navigated through customer service in the three countries, I ran the gamut of emotions. My wife and I must have spoken with 10 different people - mechanics, rental agents, etc. Reflecting back, some people were helpful, some were caring and some just made me upset. It seems to boil down to real vs. artificial caring. 

As a doctor, I see people in need every day and while I don’t always have the answers, I work hard to make them feel cared about. Aren’t we all about customer service in some way?

This blog will look at consoling a troubled friend, family member, colleague or even acquaintance  - the five most important ways to show you care.

#1. Validation

Have you ever been here? 

Me: “Hello, I have a problem with…."

Agent With Monotonous Voice: “I can certainly understand that this must be frustrating, Mr. VanWingen (mispronounced).” 

Aknowledging the truth of what the speaker is saying is offering validation. This in and of itself is a great comfort. However, while the words were good and appropriate in this case, validation requires more than mere words. Compassion (or lack of compassion) in the tone something is said.

BOTTOM LINE: When consoling a friend, aknowleding the truth of their feelings and their right to have them is a great place to start. However, if you're going to say something, mean it.  Anything else is cheap and conveys just the opposite.

#2. Compassion

Kind words are good, but communication is much more than words. It would be difficult to tell someone how to convey compassion, but luckily, this should come naturally if the feelings are genuinely there. It is in the eyes, the tone, the inflections of speech and maybe a touch. 

As a teacher of medical students, I am not sure that this quality can be taught. Some people care and some people don’t. I really don’t feel that my telling a student that they need compassion will bring compassion. I do feel, though, that life experience can bring about compassion. When that compassion comes from past personal pain or struggle, it is genuine.

BOTTOM LINE: Draw from you past situations to convey compassion, understanding and caring.

#3. Time

While words do not need to be lengthy to convey compassion, a perception of time urgency carries a negative impact. Doctors are notorious for this. A premature hand on the door can leave a patient feeling unimportant regardless of reason for leaving.

BOTTOM LINE: Slow down. Show the person confiding that they are important by giving them your undivided time and attention.

#4. Apologies

Saying “I’m sorry” means a lot. In the arena of medicine, mistakes are made and unfortunate outcomes are commonplace. It is a well-known fact that when pride gets in the way of such situations, lawsuits are much more likely. When misfortune hits, blame is often assumed and barriers go up. Though it might seem contrary, a heart-felt apology does not place guilt, but helps those affected to begin healing. 

BOTTOM LINE: If someone has had misfortune and you feel sorry about it - even if it has nothing to do with you - an apology can be of great comfort and help show them you care.

#5. Honesty

I appreciate my patients who are honest. Recently a patient of mine, Marge, let me know that lately she has not felt cared about, that she felt lost in the shuffle. Indeed, stress, personal matters and time can get in the way, but if you are a caring, compassionate person, this may be a sign that you need to tend to yourself self in order to continue being effective. Like-wise, relationships also needs tending. I met Marge with a renewed sense of compassion. I was thankful for her honesty. She had my undivided time and attention. I am thankful for people like Marge.

BOTTOM LINE: Being honest and open yourself engenders a sense of trust from the person you are speaking to. It both makes them feel trusted and helps them trust you more. It makes it easier for them to confide and all-in-all makes them feel they are important to you and cared about.

In conclusion…

Caring is about so much more than words. When dealing with people in need of caring, draw from similar times in your life to invoke compassion. Make ample time to care. Mind your fund of energy as you give. Be real.

Caring is so much more than a job or an obligation. When we get beyond this, rewards come in return from well-placed, freely given compassion. Simply put, you get back what you give!

Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos

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