When Meghan Gerrity found out she lost her job at a New Jersey mobile app development startup in 2016, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
Gerrity’s 3-year-old daughter had just been hospitalized with pneumonia and she and her husband were closing on their first home together.
“At the time, I really felt like I was a huge failure and I would never work again,” she told HuffPost. “I felt betrayed by my manager and my team who had always praised my work and contributions to the company.”
It was the kindness and support of her family and friends that helped her get through that difficult time. Her loved ones shared their own stories about losing a job and finding another, which made Gerrity feel hopeful and less alone.
“Hearing their similar stories, or the stories of people they knew who were in the same situation, comforted me and made me feel like I was going to be OK,” she told HuffPost. “Learning that all of my friends that lost their job earlier in their career were all now very successful made me realize that losing your job is just a minor setback and allows you the opportunity to take inventory on what you want out of your life and career.”
Hearing their similar stories, or the stories of people they knew who were in the same situation, comforted me and made me feel like I was going to be OK. Meghan Gerrity
If someone close to you has been fired or laid off, it’s imperative not to treat the job loss like a taboo subject, Gerrity added.
“Opening the dialogue and normalizing a very unnatural-feeling situation is the best thing that a friend can do for someone who is going through a similar situation,” she told HuffPost.
To that end, we asked experts what to say ― and what not to say ― to a friend who’s dealing with the loss of a job.
What to say:
I’m so sorry to hear the news. I know how much time you devoted there. How are you feeling?
“When people are going through hardship, they want to hear words that communicate understanding and empathy. Try to avoid giving your friend advice, immediately trying to cheer them up, or having them look at the ‘bright side.’ Understand that losing a job is just that ― a loss.” ― Tara Griffith, therapist and the founder of Wellspace SF
I understand how scared (or angry, frustrated or sad) you’re feeling. That has to be difficult.
“Validation is always a good place to start because it allows the other person to feel heard and understood first and foremost, which is usually what we need from our friends more than anything else.” ― Amanda Stemen, therapist in Los Angeles
Do you want to talk about it?
“Depending on the person and timing, they may or may not want to dredge up the memory. Give them the option to vent and be a supportive, good listener without judgment.” ― Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior & Thrive in Your Job
Do you want to get together?
“During a period of unemployment, people can become increasingly isolated and socially withdrawn, particularly if a big part of their social circle once involved co-workers. Therefore, encourage your friend to get out of the house, stay active, and remain connected with others. Suggest going on a hike together, grabbing a cheap coffee, or treating them to lunch. Participating in activities and spending time with loved ones can also help reinforce that there is more to their identity than just their job.” ― Tara Griffith
What do you need from me?
“This allows your friend to think about and tell you what they need. Many people’s initial reaction when someone is having a difficult time is to give advice but that might not actually be helpful. If they ask for advice, then go for it because they’re seeking it themselves.” ― Amanda Stemen
I have faith in you.
“Whenever career setbacks occur, it’s nice to be reminded of one’s ability to bounce back. Point out past resilience, successes in overcoming obstacles ― and their great decision-making abilities overall.” ― Lynn Taylor
How can I help?
“Even if your friend is not sure what they need or how you can help, asking is still a way to communicate your support. Simply put, these phrases can be nice to hear. You can also initiate support by offering to introduce them to people in your network, accompanying them to a networking event or job fair or offering to be a future job reference.” ― Tara Griffith
What NOT to say:
Everything happens for a reason.
“Or ‘When one door closes another one opens,’ or other cliche phrases about how their job loss was meant to be. While you may believe them to be true, your friend likely isn’t ready to hear this yet. Instead, provide a listening ear and acknowledge their experience without rushing to find the silver lining.” ― Tara Griffith
That’s horrible news!
“No drama — you want to be calm and low-key. Try to diffuse tension, not rekindle it.” ― Lynn Taylor
Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll find a new job soon.
“The truth is, you cannot predict the future and you have no idea how long it will take your friend to find a new job. Although the intent behind a phrase like this is to provide reassurance and hope, it may actually make them feel worse as time progresses.” ― Tara Griffith
They’ll regret firing you.
“You may share in your friend’s anger, but stoking negative thoughts is counterproductive. Focus their energy on future opportunities — a much healthier and productive choice.” ― Lynn Taylor
Lucky! I wish I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow. Enjoy the time off!
“Always avoid making someone’s misfortune about you and your situation and recognize that when someone becomes unemployed, they may have serious and valid concerns related to their ability to provide for themselves and their family. Although it may seem nice to not work for a period of time, keep in mind that unemployment is not a vacation.” ― Tara Griffith
What are you going to do?
“Your friend is likely feeling enough panic or at least anxiety without having to spell out their job search strategy. In your zeal to be empathetic, still, err on the side of the calm listener and positivity.” ― Lynn Taylor
Things could be worse. At least you have your husband/wife/family to support you.
“While it is probably true that there are people out there who are worse off, phrases like this can feel totally invalidating.” ― Tara Griffith
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.