Our experts reveal 5 major dos & don'ts when talking to someone who's lost a loved one.
The 2014 Olympics has seen a lot of up and downs, and some strange things to boot. The games started out with horror stories from journalists about the living conditions in the hotels (we all remember the photos of the yellow water and the side-by-side toilets, right?). Then once the games got started we saw some interesting turns for the Americans: snowboarder Shaun White missed out on his last chance at a medal, free-skier Gus Kenworthy became a hero after adopting a family of stray dogs, and now we have a reporter pushing an Olympian to cry. Maybe theirs is something in water of Sochi after all, because everything just seems a bit off.
If you missed Bode Miller's interview with NBC's Christin Cooper, then you missed one of the biggest WTF? moments of this year's Olympics. After winning the bronze in the men's Super-G, Miller found himself face-to-face with an interviewer who just wouldn't shut up about the death of his brother. It was just last April when Chilly Miller, 29, passed away from a seizure as a result of a 2005 motorcycle crash. Since this was his first Olympics without Chilly, Cooper seemed to think this was an ideal time to harp on Miller's loss.
When you watch the interview, you can't help but scream at the TV, "Shut up, Christin! You're being a bully! Let the man walk away!" It's heartbreaking.
But the problem is Christin Cooper isn't the first reporter to not only push for a reaction for the sake of a story, or even ask completely dumb and/or inappropriate questions. How many times have you seen a reporter on the news ask someone who just lost a loved one, "How do you feel?" Can it get anymore absurd? Seriously.
We talked to two experts about how and what to say to people who are grieving. Whether you're interviewing someone for a story or are simply privy to a special event in someone's life, here's what you should and shouldn't say to someone who's just lost a loved one.
1. DO be perceptive.
As YourTango expert Dr. Shoshana Bennett points out, there's nothing wrong with "trying to elicit emotion," because that is the stuff of interesting television, but it's important to see where the interview or conversation is going. You need to read the person to whom you're talking so you don't cross a line. "After all, those types of interviews make it more interesting and personal for viewers. However, there's a line that should not be crossed, and Cooper stepped way over. As soon as it was clear that Miller was becoming upset, Cooper should have — at the very least — stopped that line of questioning. The interview at that point became invasive, insensitive and inappropriate," says Dr. Bennett.
2. DON'T exploit or sensationalize.
If you've ever lost someone important to you, then you're well aware of the unbelievable pain that comes with it. That pain is even further exemplified when a milestone in one's life happens and that particular person isn't there to share in the joy. As Certified Life Coach and YourTango expert Kelly Rudolph told us, "Vulnerability should be honored with gratitude not exploited for ratings. Many more kudos would come to a reporter who shared the inspiration Bode provided at the games than to exploit his pain. Few share true feelings of love so openly and many won’t share now due to fear of this happening to them — sensationalizing of their pain for ratings." You may not be mid-interview with someone for work, but that doesn't mean you still can't exploit someone's openness and honesty, so watch yourself and tread lightly.
3. DO be sensitive.
If you're in the middle of an awesome moment with someone, whether it be a situation similar to that of Bode Miller or, say, your best friend's wedding where her father was unable to walk her down the aisle because he has passed, be respectful of how you approach a dialogue. According to Rudolph, you don’t want to make "someone who's done something great feel worse instead of better.”
4. DON'T Harp.
Yes, there’s a missing piece to the celebration, but let's not harp on it. Don't think for one second that the person who has passed away is forgotten. As Dr. Bennett mentioned, there's a definite line that shouldn’t be crossed, but just because you don’t cross that line, doesn't mean that you get full reign to harp on the matter from the right side of decency. In other words, don't be like Christin Cooper; stop and walk away before you ruin a beautiful moment.
5. DON'T make it all about you.
Although Miller made a statement saying that he didn't blame Cooper at all, telling Matt Lauer on Today, "I know she didn't mean to push. I don't think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she realized it, it was too late. I don't blame her at all," don't take this as an opportunity to talk about your side of the story again. If you happen to be the one who was demonized because you did bring someone to tears with your overt need for an emotional break, either for ratings or because you're just that kind of person, once a truce has been made don’t bring it up again, don't try to defend yourself, and don't conjure up excuses for the line you crossed. In the end, it's not about you, and if you try to play the victim card because you fouled up, then you'll look even more of a jerk than you did originally.
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