Sometimes the words don’t matter

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you know that I talk a lot about speaking in public and how powerful it can be in a host of ways. Most of us struggle with finding the right words and using them in the most appropriate way to influence others, to share feelings and ideas. I train people to become better public speakers but I learned of a tragedy yesterday that got me thinking about how difficult it can be to speak at all under some circumstances and that sometimes words, for all their power, are inadequate.

When words don’t matter

A potential client mentioned that she was going to attend the funeral of a small child in Toronto and she didn’t know what to say to the parents. Of course, that got me thinking about when I’ve been in similar situations as well as the times in my life when I’ve faced major losses and what I needed from others. As I thought it through I realized that’s a time when words don’t really matter.

An unmovable force

I’m no expert in these areas and, fortunately, I’ve only had to deal with them a few times. But those experiences have taught me a great deal. And what I’ve learned is that those situations are so stark, so powerful, that nothing anyone can ever say will resolve them. The death of a loved one is an absolutely unmovable force that leaves us grasping to cope with its finality and our feelings of helplessness and isolation.

What grieving people need

And those feelings, I think, are our clue to providing comfort to people who have suffered a loss. As I thought about the feelings of those grieving parents I realized very clearly that the words we plan to say to them don’t matter. Just by being there with them, holding a hand, giving a hug tells that person more than anything we can say because what those grieving people need to know is that they are still part of our world, that they have people in their community who care about them and who share the pain of their loss.

A touch can say “I care”

We communicate in many ways and one of the strongest ways we communicate is through touch. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a touch is worth a thousand pictures. I think there is something primordial in us that needs the comfort of another human’s touch to get us through the darkest, most difficult times. There is something about a tender touch that can say, “I care . . . I share your feelings” And at times of loss the gentle touch of a hand or a comforting hug can provide support that can’t be measured.

More than anything you say

As a society, we’ve drifted away from a touching culture and, indeed, we have to be careful these days that our touches are not misunderstood. Common sense must rule. But the next time you have the opportunity to show your support of a friend or colleague who has endured a tragic loss, remember that just being there, listening and extending the hand of friendship will mean more than anything you may think you need to say.

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About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area and across Ontario, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.

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