Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and sometimes you’re going to come across someone who is upset or maybe your friend or family member will be upset.
It can be nerve-wracking for some of us to figure out what to say, as maybe you don’t want to say the wrong thing or are you aren’t exactly sure what’s appropriate.
In this guide, we’ll be talking all about what to say to someone who is upset, including what to say to someone who is upset over a loss, what to say to someone who is upset over a test score and what to say to someone who is upset over a break up.
Know that at the end of the day, just being there is really helpful and you don’t have to have the exact right words to say. It’s the thought that counts.
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1. Express How Sorry You Are
Sometimes, just expressing how sorry you are can go a long way.
You don’t have to have any fancy words to say to someone who is crying, you don’t have to have a full speech prepared, you can just tell them that you’re really sorry and express your condolences or your sympathy with these sympathy quotes.
This is particularly good for when someone has experienced a major loss or other tragedy that is not easily gotten over.
You don’t want to come swooping in with jokes or “trying to cheer them up.”
You just want them to know that you are sorry and that you are thinking about them.
2. Say Nothing and Give Them a Hug
Often, if someone is upset, the best thing you can say is nothing.
Just physically be there for them, ready to give them a hug or put a hand on their shoulder and let them know you’re not alone.
They might be crying too loudly to listen to you, or perhaps you yourself don’t even know what to say.
Give the person the comfort of your touch if you are close enough and you know it will make them feel supported, and let them know with your physical presence that they have someone to lean on.
This can feel awkward, at first, but it also gives the other person the chance to say things or to express what they’re feeling without you trying to interrupt every 10 seconds to say the right things.
Sometimes, there truly are no words to say to someone who is upset.
3. Tell Them How You Are Going to Help
Being upset can be for a variety of reasons, from more mundane things like someone failing a quiz, a long-term sadness that comes from being stressed, or a tragic personal loss.
If you know the person well and what they are going through, tell them how you are going to help them!
It could be something like, “I’m so sorry you didn’t do as well on the quiz as you wanted. I’m going to come over this afternoon and help you study so you can ace the make-up quiz tomorrow” or “I’m really sorry that your dog got into an accident. I’m going to go pick your kids up from school and let them play at my house so you have time to take him to the vet and take care of him. I can even feed them dinner, you don’t need to worry about that.”
Think about what you can do to help or what you can offer, and then do it.
4. Ask Them What You Can Do to Help
If you don’t know the person well enough to anticipate their needs or feel like you are in a position to tell them what you’re doing to help, you can always ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
Often, people won’t respond to this as people don’t want to be seen as needing help, so you can also say something like “I would like to drop off dinners every night this week to help take the burden of cooking off of you – is that okay?”
Give them space to refuse while telling them what you would like to do, and many would find it way easier to take you up on that.
5. Make them Laugh
If someone is upset over something like a test score or a failed job interview or something non-life threatening, try to make them laugh!
Make a lighthearted joke, tell a funny story, remind them of a funny incident that happened to you.
Send them a funny clip of a TV show you both like, or really anything you can think of to get them laughing rather than thinking about what they’re upset about.
6. Bring Up another Topic that They Like
Again, in the case of figuring out what to say to someone who is upset over something that isn’t life-threatening and can easily be overcome, it can help to distract them by acknowledging their sadness and saying you are sorry and then, if they don’t want to talk about it, switching the conversation to bring up another topic that they like.
If they like gardening, ask them their opinion about flowers in your backyard, or if you both like a shared TV show, bring up your thoughts on the latest episode.
The way you segway into this has to be done with care as you don’t want the person to think that you don’t care about them being upset, but sometimes all people need is just a little reminder that there are other things in life and they need someone to distract them for a bit.
7. Encourage Them to See the Big Picture
If someone is upset over something like a failed test or a job they didn’t get or a college they didn’t get into, it can be helpful to be affirmative and remind them of the bigger picture, which is to say that they are going to be absolutely fine and life goes on and that you can stay positive when bad things happen.
You could say something encouraging like, “I know you didn’t do well on this quiz, but you’ve done great on all of the other ones and you can still get that A in the class” or “That job doesn’t know what they’re missing out on, but you are going to find somewhere that is perfect for you and wonder why you ever cared about that company anyway.”
Give them a little hope for the future and encourage them to see the big picture so they’re not stuck wallowing in what has gone wrong.