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How Not to Comfort a Colleague
 

Saying something "was for the best" might be the worst thing you could say, a new study shows.

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Saying something was for the best might not be so comforting to hear after all. 

That's according to The Boundaries of Minimization as a Technique for Improving Affect: Good for the Goose But Not for the Gander? a new report from Kristin W. Grover of the University of Vermont, who notes these cliches do more harm than good, minimizing a loss rather than rationalizing, commiserating, or empathizing with it. 

"Unfortunately, research suggests that these types of minimizations are both ubiquitous and experienced by their recipients as entirely unhelpful," Grover writes in the paper. "[But] when people engage in their own brand of minimization [self-generated minimization] they can successfully improve their affect."

Using a 7-point positive-affect scale in which 1 was the most negative reaction and 7 was the most positive reaction, Grover found that when someone's unfortunate experience was minimized by another person such as a colleague, he or she rated the interaction 4. When the participant minimized his or her own experience, however, the average rating was 4.6. 

The reason for this is simple, Grover says. People perceive themselves as "greater" messengers than others, so they have to deal with a loss before they minimize it in order to cope with it. So if someone says, "It could've been worse," before the person is ready to hear it, that only "adds insult to injury," says Grover. "Externally-generated minimizations can make recipients feel isolated, as though others do not understand their feelings, self-generated minimizations--because they come from the self--should not have this same effect." 

So the next time someone brings you their troubles, just be a good listener instead. 

Last updated: Sep 6, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
@WillYakowicz




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