How not to encourage someone

I had a job interview this week. While people were encouraging me to do well, I realized humans haven’t really figured out certain conversational norms. We don’t know what to say when some tragedy occurs (except a frowny face and the standard ‘if you need anything…’ remark), which I think is the worst case. But even the worst case is merely a special case of the “I don’t like your emotion and want to change it” response. It’s a bad response because emotions are internal and—absent drugging them— the only thing you can do is distract them, rationalize with them, or make them keep their emotions hidden. Anyway, here’s what not to say:

“You’re going to do great.” Empty praise, unknowable, and it rings false.

“You’ve worked so hard.” Empty praise, unknowable, and now you’re making me reassess how hard I’ve worked. Maybe I think I could have worked harder and you just made me feel worse.

“I’m not worried about you at all.” Fuck off, now you’re making me worry double: about disappointing you and disappointing myself.

What you can say:

“Everybody loves you.” Aww. That’s just a nice sentiment.

“Your work is interesting.” Thank you.

“I would like for you to impregnate my daughter.” … That took a weird turn, but I appreciate the sentiment. Thanks!

About Pixel

Pixel Q. Styx refuses to talk about himself. If thou wishest, thou may infer from his blog what thou wishest.
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One Response to How not to encourage someone

  1. A friend of mine suffered a tragedy recently. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. Let her talk, showed concern and careful interest.

    People want genuine concern, not some trivial cookie-cutter sentiment, definitely not pity.

    That said, go easy on those who offer you those silly responses. They either don’t care, in which case getting upset is fruitless, or they do care but don’t know how to express it.

    Good post.

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