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Going Beyond “How are you?” Tips for Connecting Conversations

Even under the best of circumstances the question, “How are you?” can be difficult to answer. Sometimes “How are you?” is a polite greeting like “Hello.” Other times it’s a genuine invitation to a deeper conversation. Either one can put us in an awkward spot. Do we answer truthfully and risk taking up the asker’s time? Or, do we reply with a perfunctory, “Fine, and you?” that may or may not be genuine. Add in grief, illness, or other emotional turmoil, and answering a casual, off-handed, “How are you?” can become overwhelming.

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Pre-Meeting & Post-Meeting: What is is all for anyhow?

No matter how long you’ve been a volunteer, it can be helpful to reconnect with the purpose of pre-meeting. Knowing why we gather for this hour enables us to best utilize our time together.
Pre-meeting serves a number of purposes including:
• Share news about upcoming events
• Problem solve and prepare for group logistics
• Time to get focused and grounded
• Create connection, safety, and cohesion among facilitators
• Opportunity to explore personal grief

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Skill Review

Occasionally it’s useful to look at volunteering from the lens of “What are we doing here?” We don’t mean that in an existential, life purpose way (although that’s super interesting too!) but more in the sense of what exactly are we trying to do when we facilitate peer support groups for grieving people of all ages? Here’s our take: we are working to create an atmosphere that feels different than what people usually encounter in daily life, especially when it comes to grief. Rather than assumptions, platitudes, advice, or forced silver linings, we strive for connection, acknowledgement, understanding, and acceptance. A lot goes into fostering this kind of environment. We pay close attention to ourselves and others. We deeply listen. We facilitate safe, supportive conversations. We also hand out snacks, pass tissues, cheer on foosball games, and sit steady in the face of difficult emotions. Easy right? Thankfully the skills of awareness, reflection, asking questions, and group facilitation provide us with the tools needed for these efforts.

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But I don’t want to be rude! The skill of interrupting

As a child, you likely learned that interrupting is rude and a sign of bad manners.  So, here you are as an adult, with years of politeness training, being asked to interrupt others.  And not just anyone either, you’re asked to interrupt grieving people who are talking about devastating losses. Interrupting people, particularly when they are expressing deep and difficult emotions, goes against all we are taught about how to be considerate and kind. So why interrupt? Why put ourselves through the anxiety and distraction of figuring out the when, how, and why of stopping a child, teen, or adult in group from continuing to speak? Wouldn’t it just be better to hold our breath and silently plead with the person to stop talking? While that might look easier on the outside, it drains our mental energy, especially when the person talking is possibly creating discord or an unsafe situation. In most cases, the benefits of interrupting outweigh the effort and risk that go into overcoming years of programming to be polite.

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