Situation #1:
You find out that a friend was just laid off.

What you say: “Oh no, that’s terrible! They don’t know what they’ve lost!”

Tomas Soto* did not get his job contract renewed twice in the span of two years. “Friends sympathized with me and seemed angry that my employers would not keep me,” he says.

What he’d really like to hear: “More words of encouragement like ‘things will get better,’ because after that, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.”

Situation #2: A friend tells you that she and her cheating husband have separated. 

What you say: “Good for you! You should have left him long ago!”

When Janice Lobregat* told her friends about her separation, she says, “People were mortified. They asked, ‘How could he have done this to you?’ ‘Ano pa bang hinahanap niya?’ They also expressed genuine concern about how the kids and I were doing. There were many questions about how things erupted and how I found out.”

What she’d really like to hear: “More genuine concern and fewer prying questions. I didn’t like it when they started asking all of these gossip-type of questions. I was still processing the event, so it didn’t help to dig into the details.”

Situation #3: A friend says that she has a special child. 

What you say: “Oh, has it been difficult?”

Anna Hermoso’s* eldest child is sick, and when people find out, she says, “Some are speechless and feel awkward, so they avoid the topic altogether. Others offer words of reassurance, often pertaining to my special child as a blessing or as a lucky charm to the family. At times, they mention someone else they know who has a special child. A few are curious and probe more about my child and his condition.”

What she’d really like to hear: “I greatly appreciate those who ask questions respectfully and show genuine interest in my child, because it also allows me to introduce him as the person he is rather than just an individual with a condition.”

Situation #4: Your new friend tells you that she had a sister who passed away.

What you say: “I’m so sorry for your loss. How are you now?”

Nica Hechanova, a yoga teacher, lost her older sister 10 years ago. She says, “When people find out, they usually say, ‘I’m sorry. Are you okay?’ Others feel awkward, and I can tell that they don’t know what to say.”

What she’d really like to hear: “Yes, it may feel awkward because they’re not sure how I feel about my sister’s death, and I don’t expect everyone to understand how it feels. It can be a sensitive topic. I appreciate, though, if others look at me kindly and are sincerely sorry for my loss.”

Situation #5: You learn that a colleague’s family member is a recovering alcoholic.

What you say: “Is he okay now? Are you?”

Sheila Santos’s* dad underwent rehab for alcoholism and sometimes, when people find out, she says, “They ask me if my dad has totally stopped drinking. I know it’s a valid question, but if he is still drinking, then he’s not a recovering alcoholic. He’s still an alcoholic. Then some say, ‘But just a little should be okay.’ Please stop talking about what you don’t know about.”

What she’d really like to hear: “It would be better if people didn’t pry and just expressed how wonderful it is that he’s recovered and is no longer drinking. I know they’re curious, but they should remember that it’s a sensitive topic.”


*Not their real names

For more awkward situations and how to deal with them, head over to!

Photo: Flickr edited by Mike Dee; GIFS: Giphy

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