Are you okay?
How do you respond when the answer is “no”?
You’ve probably heard that if the conversation is hard, then it’s one worth having. While I agree that normalising the conversation around things that should be talked about but are considered taboo is very important, I don’t think anyone is really prepared to sit in the discomfort that follows from these exchanges.
Let’s not think about the politically heavy ones. Let’s instead think of a conversation that is more likely to occur in our daily lives. Imagine you’re meeting up with a friend and out of courtesy or genuine curiosity, you ask them how they’ve been. The usual response would be “I’m good, how about you?” but what if they come clean instead and confess that they’re not actually doing too good. How does one deal with such a response? How do we continue with this conversation that might put both parties – especially the one who is not doing okay – in an uncomfortable position?
That’s a genuine question I’m throwing to you today. It’s almost an innate thing to do as humans to ask each other how we’re doing, whether we truly care or not about the other person’s wellbeing. Even when we learn a new language, one of the most primary phrases that we will be taught aside from “good morning” and “good night” is “how are you?”. It’s part of our socialising script and God forbid someone answers other than “I’m good” because no one really teaches us how to deal with a negative response.
You don’t panic yet though; you might give them a sympathetic pout, start to feel genuine concern, and asks what’s been bothering them. What comes after is where what you say or don’t say or do and don’t do would matter. Once they’ve laid it all on you, you must figure out how to react to their confession.
It might be something that you relate to deeply and so you might be able to give them a reassuring “I know how you feel” and let them know that what they’re going through is normal and that many others have been there done that. It might give them great comfort to know that their feelings aren’t so alien after all.
But what if it’s something you can’t relate to? Those are the ones I can’t seem to figure out how to conduct my responses to. I suppose the best thing to do in that position would be to lend an ear, right? Be attentive and listen actively to what they’re trying to tell you.
Bear in mind, this whole situation would be harder on the person confessing their emotions. It’s not always easy to be vulnerable and tell them that you’re not ok – some people might’ve spent their whole lives being told they’re dramatic or overreacting whenever they feel overwhelming emotions, some might have lived in an environment that believes one should keep one’s troubles to themselves, etc.
So, while the conversation might be very uncomfortable to the receiver, it could mean a lot to the other person that someone is listening to them. How do you deal with a difficult conversation?