Knowing What to Say

Do you ever just not know what to say? Caring about what words to use may be a sign of compassion and show that you value personal connection and understanding. 

As a mediator, I work with people who may experience uncertainty or compassion fatigue. During conflict, it may be a challenge to show up as our best self, especially if we have not fully considered the situation and the needs involved.   

I sometimes search for the right thing to say, only to remember that it is more important to listen than to speak. Showing someone that you “get” what is being said or understand someone’s experience does not necessarily require saying anything at all. 

Finding the right words to say meets a need to show compassion and connect. These needs may also be met by simply sitting with someone and listening.  

Karen* reached out to talk about her family’s disagreement about caring for her father as he approached the end of life. In the beginning, the right words were not necessary. My role was to listen and fully understand. My eyes and facial expression and body posture showed my care and compassion.  

Acknowledgement does not require finding the perfect words. The truth is that even though I may not be speaking, I am always saying something, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  My eyes, face, arms and hands speak, as does my head and body posture. 

Eventually, Karen and I talked through her family’s situation. We clarified what she needed from the conversation and considered what her father and siblings might be experiencing.  She knew who she wanted to be in the conversation. We talked about how to care for her own needs, while keeping the primary wish of allowing their father to die with dignity and as comfortably as possible at the forefront.   

When approaching challenging conversations, it can be easy to get caught up in the emotions. Processing the dispute before engaging in the conversation creates an opportunity to fully consider needs and wishes.

Knowing the goal of maintaining compassion and clarity while respecting the dignity of her father, allowed Karen to let go of what the exact result would be. It simply helped her show up as she wanted to show up in the situation.

By letting go of means of getting that result, Karen opened the space for a constructive dialogue. She and her siblings then created a plan to provide care for the father to spend his last weeks in his own home as the children took turns providing the care.

Peace coaching or conflict coaching helps create a plan to communicate confidently and show up with clarity, compassion and curiosity. Clarifying the underlying needs and consider the experiences of each person involved helps that happen more easily.

This may be particularly helpful when the conversation requires immediate action as in Karen’s situation, or the other participants are hesitant to engage in mediation. 

Are your words and actions saying what you mean to say? Knowing who you will be in a conversation often proves as, if not more, important than the exact words you say. 

*Name changed to protect privacy. 

A civil and family mediator, peace builder, and educator, Sherry Ann Bruckner lives in Alexandria, Minnesota. Visit brucknermediation.com/services to learn more or call Sherry at (320) 808-3212 for help to transform conflict and create peace.

As always, be gentle with you. Be gentle with all. Be the peace.