Beyond Small Talk

How to Talk to People Who’ve Been Through Some S#@t

Easy on the advice

Drew Magary
Published in
6 min readNov 21, 2019


Illustration: George(s)

This story is part of How to Talk to Anyone, Forge’s guide to moving past the chitchat and truly connecting.

SShit. We’ve all been through some of it, have we not? I myself have been through some shit over the past 12 months. I nearly died. I lost all the hearing in my right ear. My 13-year-old watched her computer get infected with porny malware for the first time (truly a milestone for 21st century youth). I had to quit my day job a month ago. AND I overcooked a pricey strip steak I bought from Whole Foods. That all falls squarely into the category of Some Shit.

The good news, I think, is that Thanksgiving is here. I know this month you’re gonna drive by umpteen links to cursory blog posts about onerous holiday obligations and dealing with annoying relatives you’d rather not deal with. But for this post, let’s assume that you actually, you know, LOVE your loved ones and that you’re looking forward to seeing them.

Let’s also assume that they, too, have been through some shit. This is America. It’s designed to put you through some shit, even when you didn’t ask for any to get lobbed your way.

When I got hurt, I had no problem with people asking “Hey, how’s your brain?” the second they walked in the door.

It can be nerve-wracking trying to console someone who is living through the hell of chronic illness or unemployment or divorce or grief or some other element of the human experience that is, at its core, shitty. It’s hard to know what to say or what to do without making things worse. And it’s even harder to know what to do when your main priority is scoring some of the thigh meat off the turkey before it all gets taken.

That is why I, a professional blogger, am here to help. Who better to listen to, really? Here is a handy, and concise, amateur’s guide to comforting others in times of distress:

Read the room if you’re gonna bring up the bad shit

When I got hurt, I had no problem with people asking “Hey, how’s your brain?” the second they…



Drew Magary
Writer for

Columnist at GEN. Co-founder, Defector. Author of Point B.