Hearing the Negative, Responding With Positives

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What’s your typical reaction to bad news? If your loved...

What’s your typical reaction to bad news? If your loved one confessed to a drug problem, what would you say? Would you blow up? Break down? Bully them?

We’ve all reacted poorly in difficult circumstances. But in order avoid these negative responses in trying situations, we have to learn healthy communication habits.


The next time a loved one comes to you with a difficult issue, try the following tactics:

  • Listen:

We all know how important it is to be a good listener, yet we often fail to do this seemingly simple task. Just listen. Don’t interrupt with your own advice or allow yourself to be distracted by other things. This person has chosen to share something with you, so don’t miss this opportunity to be the listening ear they need. You may be tempted to try to jump in and fix them, but it is important to avoid this tactic.

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  • Hear:

We listen with our ears, but we hear using our mind, intuition, emotions and perspective. While you listen to the other person, pay attention to what is not being said. This can provide clues about the root of their issues. Your knowledge may also give insight into what they are really trying to convey. Don’t put words in their mouth; instead, focus on what’s really going on behind the scenes. For example, if your loved one wants to quit counseling, it could be because the lack session struck a nerve or brought up an issue they need to work through.

  • Empathize:

Remember how difficult it is for most people to openly communicate about their circumstances, thoughts and feelings. Try to get a sense of what they are feeling and help them understand that they’re not alone. You are with them in their suffering. Repeat and reflect on what they have said to let them know you understand and are experiencing their emotions with them.

  • Refrain:

If someone shares a negative thought, it can be tempting to counter with a positive thought. Although there is a time for encouragement and optimism, this shouldn’t always be your first response. A Pollyanna outlook at the outset can feel condescending and make them believe you have a lack of empathy or understanding. Let them know you realize they are hurting and acknowledge their feelings.

  • Compose:

For those who don’t have the strongest verbal communication skills, writing a letter can be helpful. You don’t have to be Nicholas Sparks. Simply put down on paper (or screen) your love and support for that person in your life. Let them know how much you care, that you realize they are suffering and want them to know they are not alone. As you take time to reflect and craft an encouraging letter, you can express the thoughts and emotions that were left unsaid during a conversation. This letter could have lasting impact and might be something they treasure daily.

  • Reminisce:

Hearing bad news can cause us to focus on the negative. It can be easy to forget your loved one’s redeeming qualities. Take some time to reminisce about their strengths. Focus on the positive aspects of the situation and their positive attributes. It can be helpful to write down a few things about your loved one for which you are grateful. You can share these with them when the time is right.

  • Enlist:

We often need to positively respond to negative news by enlisting the help of others. Don’t sweep anything under the rug. Communicate your needs to those who can support you and our loved one in order to ensure you get the help you need. Some great sources of support can include counselors, sponsors, rehabilitation facilities, friends, family and support groups


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