Considerations for conversations and offering support

Contact: Olivia Munoz

Advice on how to talk with and offer support to others during this difficult time.

In the Oct. 11, 2023 edition of Today@Willamette we shared information about the support available for students, faculty, and staff as we process the escalated violence in Israel and Palestine. Many community members are experiencing the grief that comes from loss, suffering, and violence. The impact of these events and the ongoing conflict are profound and global.

You may find that your peers — whether students, staff, or faculty — turn to you for help and support in this difficult time. You may also be looking to support or to be in conversation with others. Below are some considerations for these moments.

1. Consider if you are ready to be in the conversation

Think about the conversation you want to have beforehand and pick the right time to have it. Think about your intentions. Be honest with yourself about whether you are willing to truly listen. If your intention is to support a friend, you need to be prepared to do so.

Consider time and place. Is it the right time to begin a potentially difficult conversation? Are you and the person you are going to talk to emotionally ready? To remove doubt, try asking, “Is this something you feel able to talk about right now?” 

It is okay to avoid or delay some conversations if you don’t think they will be productive or if you are not in the right frame of mind. You know yourself, your friends, your family members, and your energy level. Not every moment is the right one.

2. Actions can speak louder than words

You don’t always need to find the right words. Allow your friend to guide how they want to be supported. Try saying “Please know that I am available to you,” or asking “Is there a way I can support you right now?” Some people might want to talk, others might just appreciate being asked and knowing you are thinking about them and that you are available.

3. Once you are in conversation, listen. And speak from your own perspective.

Keep the conversation in the first-person. Using phrases like “in my opinion,” or “I feel,” or “from my experience,” can help. Try to be comfortable with some pauses and silence for reflection to really hear what is being expressed. Ask open-ended questions if it feels right. When we question why people believe things, they may feel judged, which can reduce the likelihood that they can hear other opinions or feel supported. Empathizing with what the person is feeling and expressing compassion and agreement where there are connections can be helpful.

4. What to do if the conversation goes awry

 It is inevitable that some parts of these conversations may be difficult. It can help to accept that these conversations could be hard, as meaningful conversations often are.

However, if it becomes too overwhelming or ceases being helpful, you can let the person know that you care but that you need to step away from the conversation at that time.

5. Mistakes might happen.

Despite our best intentions, we will make mistakes or experience communication challenges and misunderstandings. Keep the relationship at the center. Acknowledge a misstep or gap in your knowledge. It is fair to admit if you are not fully informed on issues or if you regret a question or statement. Focus on how to restore the conversation or ask if a pause is needed.

Thank you for taking care of yourselves and each other, and don’t hesitate to seek support as needed.

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