Monday, November 18, 2013

At a Loss for Words

It can happen to the most loquacious, the most eloquent of us. Even President Obama searched for words when giving a speech. Due to a staff oversight he didn’t have the prepared speech in front of him. When staff gave the speech to him he smiled and began the delivery.

We have no trouble talking about a good book or movie. Yet some human exchanges have you with wings flapping like a frightened bird whose vocal chords have lost their sound. “I am at a loss for words.” You have been taken by surprise. What can you do when this happens? Sometimes, nothing. If the other person is in the throes of strong emotion directed at you, the best thing to do is breathe deeply and listen, knowing the fury is temporary. When feelings subside it helps to suggest returning at a later time to talk about the issue. “I would like to respond to you right now but I don’t have the words.” Why you lose words might not be immediately obvious. It could be you heard “Shut up”, when you tried to express yourself as a child when things got heated. Or it could be you’re afraid if you begin to talk, the painful truth will come out, not to be retrieved. So time can work in your favor.

If this is a particularly difficult conversation with a boss or an adult child, preparation might give a boost to your confidence. Write it down. Author Isabel Allende encourages writers experiencing a block to “Show up, show up, show up.” When stopped by fear or discomfort, you can rehearse what you want to say in your mind. And then “show up! When blocked by fear spoken words, as with written, can break through; they “show up” when you need them. So what you initially experienced as loss becomes a relationship gain.

This being said, we probably have had those times when a friend is fired up about a particular subject. Be it politics, religion or a life episode that brings back painful memories. As she speaks she becomes more and more excited. What can you say? Not a word; listen. The venting eventually subsides and you tell her you understand how hard this has been for her. Then quietly she says, “Thanks for being here, sorry you had to hear this.” Introduce a neutral topic. Be happy your loss of words paid off in this instance and your advice, quietly given, may just have saved a friendship.

Angela Menghraj

Photo: Plonq (

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