13 things NOT to say to unemployed friends

THE WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick

Originally Published: Boston Herald (April 7, 2010)

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As economists continue to parse the latest unemployment numbers and projections, there’s a deep phenomenon in play that can’t be measured by statistics.

I call it the Asinine Factor.

Like mourners at a funeral, victims of downsizing have little choice but to be consoled by friends and relatives with a flair for meaningless clichés. Instead of simply saying “I’m sorry” and providing a sympathetic ear, they’ll feel compelled to share fortune cookie-quality advice or badger you with inappropriate questions.

“People who say ‘everything happens for a reason’ are being sincere,” says Rebecca, a recent castaway in the advertising field. “That is their philosophy and they are trying to give you reassurance that things will work out OK. However, that’s not my world view and it’s being applied to my life and I have to sit there and take it because you mean well.”

“So I end up feeling even worse when someone offers that kind of comfort,” she adds. “I’m not only an unemployed loser, I’m also a bad person for silently critiquing your kind attempt to reach out!”

How common are asinine remarks from well-meaning people? Based on an informal “Working Stiff” survey of recent job hunters, it’s an epidemic.

If you want to cheer up a friend who was just laid off, here’s a cheat sheet of what NOT to say. And in the spirit of Mad Magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee, here are some suggested “snappy answers” if these things are ever said to you:

  1. “This is the best thing that ever happened to you.” — Please kick me in the rear end again, I can’t get enough of this feeling.
  2. “Now you have an opportunity to try something new!” — Like Ramen noodles or malt liquor?
  3. “At least you have your health.” — If I were dead, the job search would be much simpler.
  4. “Have you ever heard of a thing called Craigslist or Google or Monster?” — Already two steps ahead of you with my Internet machine.
  5. “Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window.” — He also drowns people (see Exodus 14:27).
  6. “Maybe you should write a book.” — About clueless things people ask the unemployed?
  7. “Well, you knew this was coming, right?” — Are you the one who tried to sell “I Told You So” t-shirts after Hurricane Katrina?
  8. “So, what are you going to do NOW?” — I dunno, maybe look for another job. Or some new friends.
  9. “What about the house? Are you going to lose it?” — This question is best saved for when the kids are around.
  10. “It’s their loss!” — Unfortunately, everyone is replaceable. Google “Nomar Garciaparra,” “Mo Vaughn” and “Pedro Martinez.”
  11. “Things can’t be that bad yet because I don’t see you working at Walmart.” — Too bad because my blue smock would coordinate well with your white-collar snobbery.
  12. “You’re lucky you don’t live in this dreary West Virginia mining town, where unemployment is 475 percent.” — I’m also lucky I am not in 19th Century Ireland when there was a potato famine.
  13. “It wasn’t like you were making a lot of money anyway.” — Nope, that job was just for fun. My husband’s job is the serious one!

Speaking of fun, executive career coach Jay Block tells me some of his clients have been advised by jealous friends to enjoy their “funemployment.” Hey, the foreclosure vultures might be circling above your head, but think of the extra time you now have to play video games and update your Facebook status!

The best comfort you can offer the unemployed, of course, is real help with networking and tracking down job leads. But if you can’t do that, it’s smart to just shut up and nod.

If you have the credibility to praise their professional talents and skills, a supercharged self-confidence boost will always be welcomed. Or if you are tongue-tied, remember that you can never go wrong with a classy fruit basket.

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Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the Boston Herald. Feedback is welcomed at heraldstiff@gmail.com.

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