You Don’t Say: Allow for Pauses with Clients

IkebanaClimbing a tree is usually easier than coming back down. Just ask the cat. Keeping this in mind, it is helpful to remember that what you say to a client is difficult to correct if mistakes are made. Sometimes, no words are the best words. Pauses in conversation can be quite powerful in conveying sentiment, allowing room for grief to settle into itself, not become frantic for understanding. Sometimes, understanding is all your client wants from you emotionally.

Let’s go over a few don’ts step-by-step so that you do not end up calling the fire department to rescue you out of a tree while the whole neighborhood watches:

Listen. Remember that conversation is an exchange. If you try to dominate the interaction, your client may view this behavior as not only rude, but think you are impatient as well. They may feel that you have no time for them or for their loss and that they are being treated like cattle, moved along to make room for the next head of beef.

For examples of good listening practices, visit

Questions, questions, questions. For nearly everyone, filling out a questionnaire at the best of times is boring, tedious and sometimes an intrusive process. Just imagine having a barrage of questions thrown at you while under intense grief. Your client may have barely been able to have gotten themselves dressed that day to come to your office. Try to think of the process of filling out forms as being similar to Ikibana — the art of Japanese flower arranging. This art explores the balance of space used and not used as being equally important. Interject pauses between questions, offer a cup of coffee, words of comfort instead of ones of business only.

False Reassurances. Even a child can sense when they are told less than the truth. Just imagine how emotions and senses can be amplified for those grieving. A pin dropped can sound like an explosion. Well-meaning words intended to give comfort, such as everything will be ok, may ring loud with falseness for those who feel things will never be ok again. Some clients may perceive your attempts at solace as wooden, that you are only doing your job and nothing more. They may wish for nothing more from everyone for their pain and loss to be understood. Hearing cliched phrases may not emote what they need. For examples of fresh and alternative phrasings and approaches, visit

Disclosure. “Misery loves company” is a well-known saying, but is it always true? Maybe not at length. Going into a long conversation with a client about a passing in your own family, tends to draw the focus away from the matter at hand, from your client’s loss. They may perceive your comments as being irrelevant, or worse, as you being insensitive. You could simply say that you do understand loss, having experienced your own and leave it at that. Again, this could be another instance when using less is better.

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