General Question

Trillian's avatar

What am I supposed to say?

Asked by Trillian (21062 points ) February 16th, 2010

I may have mentioned that I have a tough time picking up on and processing social cues. I’m working on it. So when people tell me their problems that I think are their own fault, that’s obviously not what they want to hear. I have no idea what a normal person would say to something like this for instance: “My husbands son lives in a house that is on the same electrical line as ours. I pay the bill even though he is supposed to pay half because he knows we don’t want our electric shut off.” My impulse is to tell her to kick the little brat out. A normal person would commiserate with her. I guess. Can you tell me some things I could say that a nice person would say?

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31 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t know what a normal person would say either, but I think in sentiment they would tend to agree with you.

If my friend said that to me, I would respond with something like this: “It sounds to me like you have to choose between keeping him as a tenant and getting a fair split on the bill.” That essentially restates what’s just been said, without judgment, while putting it in a way that might actually help the other person to see the matter in different terms.

lilikoi's avatar

I’d suggest they separate the lines so the kid gets his electricity shut off if he doesn’t pay his own bill.

Every time I see your avatar, I am reminded of Trillian the IM program, because it actually resembles their logo a little when I look at it at a distance.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Don’t know what a “nice person” would say.

Your first social cue should be, Be Yourself. Then you’re no longer concerned with what a “nice person” would say because you’re more interested in giving honest feedback if you feel the situation calls for it.

I prefer not to listen to people’s problems for the very reason you described. If “forced” to listen I’ll either nod or grunt when appropriate to encourage the person to go away, or I’ll tell them why or how I think their situation could be viewed from another perspective or how they might approach it differently.

Regardless of what you say, don’t try to imitate what you think someone else might do.

Be true to yourself.

Zen_Again's avatar

As it is the husband’s son, I think he should take it up with him. Ovbiously there is a deeper issue here, besides the money factor. I would ask about the nature of the relationships involved, and exactly how much money we’re talking. Then make suggestions.

susanc's avatar

“Wow, that’s a tough one.” Usually works to express concern/solidarity/maybe even
admiration, but without (and this is essential) offering advice. Because no one asked for any….

ChaosCross's avatar

“Rather irresponsible of the boy to do that” (Appealing to her interest and veiwpoint so she approves of your general reaction)
“My only advice would be to get the person in charge to take it up with him directly” (Then offer your advice the best you can.)

If you don’t have any advice, just say: “I’m sorry”

Nullo's avatar

Observe such situations as you can, and note the small talk. Proceed to ape it when applicable. :D

gemiwing's avatar

I cheat. I’ll freely admit it- but it works. I’ll ask them a question instead. I would have said ‘Oh really?’ or just some sort of question to get them to talk more until there’s a point in the conversation where I feel that I’m on more solid ground.

I think we can all agree that what we think isn’t always what we say

augustlan's avatar

I was going to say what @susanc said. Exactly. “Wow, that’s a tough one.” works for many, many situations.

I take it you’re not really asking about this specific ‘electricity problem’, but things like this… have I got that right? If so, some other responses you could use are:

“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“That must feel awful.”
“Bad day, huh?”
“Is there anything I can do to help you?” <<only if you are actually willing to do it.

whatthefluther's avatar

I would say: clearly, you and your husband will continue to enable this behavior until such time as you have the services separated or your husband forces his son to pay. Merely a statement of fact noting realistic options, no opinion, or advice given. See ya….Gary/wtf

Just_Justine's avatar

You sound pretty normal to me.

YARNLADY's avatar

It’s not unusual to be at a loss for words in may different situations. Your best bet for every occasion is to say “How do you feel about that?”

Sophief's avatar

I think you are entitled to say whatever you feel. Todays society don’t like us to have our own opinions, if it isn’t the same as theirs. I’m with you.

Cruiser's avatar

Often they don’t want to hear what you have to say about the problem at all. They know what the problem is, the know what the solution is they just need a friend to LISTEN is all. Try to just be a good listener and tell them that is sounds hard what they are going through…give them a hug and feel good your life is not like that.

Trillian's avatar

Thanks everybody. @augustlan that’s exactly what I mean. And not giving advice is probably what I need to do. Lots of good suggestions on what I can say. That’s always been my issue; “Why in the hell are you telling me this?” Yes, the husband should take it up with the son. Who knows why he doesn’t? People are just nuttier than all get out as far as I can tell.
@lilikoi, I didn’t know there was such a thing. I took the name from a book. I wonder if the writer of the program read the book.

DrBill's avatar

you could give them a sympathetic nothing… (shows you’re sympathetic, without directing them)

“Some people are just like that”
“God will not put more on you than you can handle”
“In a hundred years, will it matter?”

redirect the conversation…
“I know what you mean”
“I heard a similar story about this guy who….”
“This too, will pass”

Silhouette's avatar

I’m probably not qualified to answer this question, apparently I’m abbynormal. I would tell them what I really really thought and not what they wanted to hear. In this situation I’d say something like this…“When it becomes a real problem for you instead of an annoyance you’ll be able to do the hard thing be it demanding their half of the money or kicking them out.”

Val123's avatar

When I’m confronted with situations like that I often just make a neutral noise like, “Hmmmm.” (that actually means, “I heard you, it’s your own fault, and I have no comment”) and don’t say anything at all!

john65pennington's avatar

Have you ever heard of the word leach? this person is taking advantage of the other person, based on electrical need. how would you ever determine who used what in this situation? from the beiginning this was a bad idea from the owner. the two lines should have been separated. this would have eliminated the problems you have now. here is a solution: which house has the most occupants? the one with the most occupants pays ⅔ rds of the electric bill. it stand to reason that two people are using more electricity than just one person. if this is not an option, then pay the electric company to install two separate lines and hope you have learned a lesson here.

CMaz's avatar

“My impulse is to tell her to kick the little brat out.”

I agree with you totally. The right thing to say.

smokeweedeveryday's avatar

Well you should just cut off the electricity. I mean teach the little “brat” a lesson!

Val123's avatar

You guys! Read the question! The OP is not the one with the problem. The OP is simply trying to figure out what a “normal” thing would be to say to someone who confided this problem in them.

Trillian's avatar

Well, that problem or any of numerous others. I never can think of something to say that isn’t kinda bitchy. I get irritated when people say stuff like this, but there are all kinds of other things I hear and I can never think of a way to just sound commiserating. I got a few good suggestions earlier though. Thanks @Val123 , and everyone else for taking the time to answer me. Lurve you all!

Val123's avatar

@Trillian If it makes you feel any better, I think it makes everyone uncomfortable to be put on the spot like that, especially when the only answer, really, is “It’s ya own damn fault!”

susanc's avatar

@Trillian: You’re being “triangulated” with a question of this type. It’s pointless.

“What should SOMEONE ELSE do about something?” is a question you have no obligation to answer. Ever. You can if it amuses you. But otherwise it’s a total waste
of effort. link

The_Idler's avatar

Be honest. You will lose the friends who are short-sighted enough to reject your helpful advice, and gain friends who appreciate your honesty.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I sometimes struggle with social anxiety and awkwardness, probably similar to what you do. Like, I know I should behave in one manner, but I’m at a loss as to what that is.. and how I’d naturally react probably would be somewhat offensive. In this case, my natural response would be to be honest and direct and tell the person they should put their foot down, blah blah. However, most people when it comes to their problems, don’t want advice, they want you to go, “Oh yeah, that sucks.”

If it was someone I knew well enough, I’d ask them if they wanted my honest opinion. If they wanted it, I’d tell them how I best see the situation getting resolved. If they don’t, I get all noncommittal and go, “Oh yeah, that sucks.” I then would probably nod my head politely and wait for the topic to pass. But that’s just me and I’m admittedly weird.

Broken_Arrow's avatar

When in doubt, say nothing at all

janbb's avatar

You could say, “I’m not sure how you want me to respond to that. Are you mainly looking for sympathy or would you like a problem-solving response?” That would give you some clues and you can base your response on what they say. I wish more people would dothat, actually; it’s a pain to get a solution when what you really want is a hug (and vice versa)!

Jeruba's avatar

Interesting how the responses are divided up between people who have advice to give about the friend’s freeloading son and people who are answering the OP’s actual question, at the top in bold, which is about what to say to people when they talk about such problems. This situation must have pushed a few buttons.

SABOTEUR's avatar

lol…Certainly pushed my buttons. Frankly, I could go either way…depends on what side of the bed I wake up on on any given day…but generally, I’m more inclined to simply nod or grunt in acknowledgement because people, for the most part, don’t want advice as much as they want to vent.

And when they do ask for advice, they usually continue to ask for advice until the advice they get validates whatever perspective they’ve already settled upon.

And on the rare occasion that whatever advice you give is followed, that advice had better lead to a satisfactory result or Lucy…you got some ‘splainin’ to do.

No…there are too many other people on this planet more than willing to get caught up in another person’s hellish vortex.

I opt out.

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