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Expressing Sympathy to a Stranger: Do’s and Don’ts



Being Legitimately Helpful

Compassion can be tricky. Even if you don’t know someone, you can feel a measure of their grief. However, there are those who can’t feel anything but would like to appear considerate and make a huge show of grief where there really isn’t any. Even if this isn’t you, someone hurting may perceive you to be this kind of person if you’re a stranger expressing sympathy.

If someone thinks you’re “piggybacking” their legitimate grief, not only will it hurt them, it may make things worse. You don’t want to do that. Check out this handy link on condolence etiquette for some tips on comforting those who you don’t know well. We’ll explore a few more tips here.

1. It’s Better to Let a Grieving Person Talk
One big mistake many make when it comes to helping someone through grief is being too verbose. Don’t talk a lot. It’s better for you to be there as a presence communicating empathy collaterally, than verbally expressing your condolences. It might be a good idea just to hand them a bouquet of condolence flowers, give them a pat on the shoulder, and simply exist.

If the grieving individual wants to talk, let them talk. Also, it’s worth pointing out that sometimes an issue is more or less impacting. For example: if you see a stranger’s car get hit, you’ll want to show a different kind of sympathy than if you’re attending the funeral of a distant friend or relation. Tier your empathy to match the situation.

  1. Express Sympathy to Them Directly
    Don’t go out of your way talking about how tragic the circumstances are to others. If you make a big show of how you feel for those who are going through pain, it may look like you’re just vying for attention. Don’t put yourself in that position.

    3. Don’t Linger Unless That’s Wanted
    Some people have nobody else to help them. It could be you’re the only one showing any kind of sympathy at all. If that’s the case, certainly, you want to be there as long as you can be for their sake. However, sometimes there are quite a few people there, and you’re a third, fourth, or fifth wheel. Don’t be that wheel. Only stick around if that’s really the right thing.
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You’ll be able to tell whether the situation is such that you should stick around. Well, you should, anyway. Look for cues. If the hurting person seems like they’d rather be alone, respect that. If you don’t know them, then you’re not in a position to second-guess them.

Actually Helping a Stranger Through Their Grief
Only linger around if you really need to, or you get the sense you’re wanted. Instead of being publicly sympathetic, be sure you express your empathy to the hurting person in a personal way. Also, if possible, let them talk. And if they don’t want to talk, you don’t have to fill the empty space. This sort of approach can actually help comfort a stranger.


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