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Finding the right thing to say in a difficult situation

  • Date

    Wed 22 Jul 20

Gillian Sandstrom

Researchers in Essex would like to hear from anyone who has suffered a bereavement, miscarriage or cancer diagnosis in the last five years for new research looking at the healing power of conversation.

Dr Gillian Sandstrom, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, believes social interaction can have a massive positive impact on the health and well-being of individuals, but all too often barriers get in the way of communication.

She hopes the results of her research will help people figure out what to say in difficult situations, so those going through them get the support they need.

As she explained: “When people are going through a difficult time, such as the loss of a loved one or a cancer diagnosis, those around them often don’t know what to say. Suddenly talking to a friend or family member, which should be the easiest thing in the world, becomes really hard. People are worried about saying the wrong thing, and no-one wants to mention the elephant in the room – ‘death’ or ‘cancer’ - so instead of offering support when it is needed most, they avoid any interaction. That’s the worst thing possible for someone going through a difficult time.

“Through this research we hope to discover what stops people from interacting and whether there are right and wrong things to say in difficult situations.  I’m a psychologist, so I can’t cure cancer but we can perhaps make life better for sufferers by removing conversation barriers.”

Anyone interested in contributing to the research can complete an online survey, which takes about 15-25 minutes. People who've completed the survey have found it helped them to reflect on their own experiences. 

The research has been funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council.