Talk to a Friend in Need

Edited by Dunaverde, Grimm, Dougie, Anonymous

Occasionally a friend or someone we know might be going through a hard time. They might have broken up with their partner, lost a loved one or be suffering from depression. It's natural to want to help them out but sometimes helping is hard. In some cases there's simply nothing we can do aside from listening. Fortunately for us, listening is one of the best things we can do.

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However, as with everything listening involves a technique. While we might feel tempted to use the same skills required by a normal interaction, listening to a friend in need requires a slightly different set of skills. The most important of these is active, non judgmental listening. In other words, listen more than you talk and avoid saying anything that might imply a judgment or a personal opinion. Because this is easier said than done, let us look at the best way to put it to practice.

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What NOT TO DO When Talking to Your Friend

Speaking to someone that needs our help requires a different set of social skills than those used in everyday interactions.

It's easier to understand how to help by focusing first on what no to do. In fact, if you succeed at avoiding any of these things, you will have done more than most to help out your friend.

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    Don't try to reassure the person and don't argue with him or her.

    There is no need to comfort your friend with words. In fact this might actually be harmful.

    It may sound like you're doing he right thing, but your friend might interpret that you are failing to understand his point of view. Worst of all it might feel as though you are arguing and contradicting him, which is the least he needs when having a hard time. Better to just acknowledge his point of view, even if it sounds overly negative, shocking or just mistaken.

    For example, if your friend says he is 'ugly, lonely and miserable and nothing ever works out for him' don't present him with evidence to the opposite. Don't tell him he is 'beautiful, has loads of friends and has a great job', to his ears this will all sound like variations of 'consider yourself lucky' and 'stop complaining'.

    Friends with Mobile Phones.jpg
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  2. 2
    Don't give advice.

    You don't want to risk giving bad advice or good advice your friend won't like to hear. Plus, let's face it: unless you are an expert in the subject your friend needs advice on, you're probable just taking a guess.

    While normal in everyday interactions, during a sensitive conversation, bad advice might worsen the problem in the long run and in the short run, lead to an argument which will ruin your friend's mood. In the best scenario, your advice might give your friend a false sense of hope leading to further disillusionment when your advice doesn't work out.

    Remember your role is not to flatter the person into feeling better -don't comfort them or tell them what they want to hear. You'll do them a bigger favor by speaking less and let them open up. Just help them talk by asking the right questions.
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  3. 3
    Don't give an opinion.

    This is one of the things that depends on the situation and on the specific question, however, as a rule of thumb try not to give your opinions. They might be a central part of normal interactions but in sensitive situations opinions can lead to arguments which would further worsen the situation. At the very least they might give your friend a false sense of hope.

    Of course, if your friend asks for your opinion, don't be rude. Instead try to be as diplomatic as possible and avoid giving an answer. The best way to do this is to redirect his question and throw it back at him.

    For example, suppose your friend has broke up with his girlfriend, Sally. If he asks 'What do you think about Sally?' just say something like 'I don't know, what do you think of her?'.
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  4. 4
    Most importantly, don't judge.

    Whatever is wrong with your friend, the best thing you can do for him is making him realize you don't judge them for it. Quite often a big part of feeling bad is actually the thought that our friends and relatives will think less of us if they see us down.

    Not only will this take a massive burden off their shoulders, it will help you do your job better. Because your friend feels you are not judgmental you will be trustworthy to him. This will help him open up, allowing him to speak about his problem at more length, often saying things that they had not told others.

    Broken Heart.jpg

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  5. 5
    Finally, don't expect to heal your friend.

    Wanting to heal them is actually a form of judging. If you feel you have failed because in spite of your efforts, your friend is still sad, they will either be angry at you or disappointed in themselves, hence making their problem worse.

    This is not a magic cure. In fact you are not trying to cure anyone: you are just helping them out. This works over time rather than overnight.
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How to Talk to a Friend in Need

Sometimes saying the right thing can be hard, and a friend who needs help might not easily open up.

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    How to start the conversation?

    Not everyone will tell you if they are feeling down. Some people are more open and willing to share, others are more shy, but even extroverts can feel embarrassed to talk about certain topics they find uncomfortable. It's important you start with a warm invitation. Avoid asking 'what's wrong?' because this is a valued judgment. You want to make them feel there is nothing wrong without actually saying it.

    Any variation of the following will get them started:

    'how are you feeling?'

    'Is there something you want to talk about?'

    'is everything alright?'

    It might take them a while to get loose, especially if it's something they have been hiding or that they feel embarrassed about.

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  2. 2
    What to do if my friend is not opening up?

    Truth is sometimes your friend might not want to talk. Use your common sense and try to decide whether its worth trying to make them talk or whether its better just let it rest. It's possible they might not want to talk today or that they might not want to talk about their problem with you. This doesn't mean they don't like you or that they don't consider you their friend: as before, don't judge them. Giving them the freedom to decide whether they want to talk or not is often a big relief for the person who might feel like he is trapped in a problem and has to keep discussing it with everyone else. Be the person that gives them that freedom and make sure you don't annoy them.

    Talking on the edge in Zurich.jpg

    Rule of thumb, if they insist more than twice that they rather not talk about something, let them be. However, let them know that if they ever need to talk about something with someone, you'll be that someone willing to listen.

    Now, if you sense that they want to talk but are just shy to get started there are a number of things you can do to warm them up. Before they open up you might need to show them they can trust you. The best way to do this is by opening up yourself. Lead the way by telling him something about yourself no one else knows, something that hurt you or that left a deep emotional impact on you. We have all had such moments and it's important to be willing to share. The more you do it, the more your friend will be willing to follow.

    However, it's important you remember this is just a device to get them started. You won't be having a two way conversation, sharing experiences for hours. You are doing this for him, once they have started talking stop talking about yourself. Also, make sure you don't pick a story that is too similar to their situation, else it might seem you are suggesting that they can learn from your example. Your friend is not meant to learn anything from your story, it's just a warm up exercise. After that, try not to provide any other stories as he might feel like you are competing with him or trying to reassure him and remember: that's not your job.

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  3. 3
    Once they open up how do I keep the conversation going?

    Use verbal and non verbal cues to nudge him into talking without speaking much yourself. As a rule you want him to do 90% of the talking, you'll be doing as least as possible to keep the conversation going. Remember this is not about having a great conversation: it doesn't have to be smooth. Silences are OK and they will happen, give your friend the time and the space to gather momentum.

    Non-verbal cues include nodding and using hand gestures to reassure your friend you are listening. These are good but only if your friend is looking at you. Plus unless you use actual words, he might feel like he is talking to a wall, and you wouldn't want that to happen.

    Verbal cues are the best way to show you are listening. They include saying things like 'yes', 'I see', 'Really?' and even the tried and tested 'uhuh'. Often these are all you'll need. If your friend has something going and wants to talk about it, verbal cues will keep the conversation going.

    Finally, ask questions every once in a while to break the monotony. You wouldn't want to give the impression he is having a monologue. When asking a question make sure you don't bring in any new information. Bringing new information might rely on an assumption on your part or lead the conversation somewhere other than where your friend wants it to go. He is control, your job is to use conversations as a way to keep the conversation going. Best way to do this is turning his last words into a question or any important facts he might have mentioned. Never interrupt and be careful to use his exact words. Rephrasing things might include new information.

    L'Importante conversation.jpg

    If you sense he is on a roll and will keep talking, just nod or say uh-huh. Use questions as an extreme resource, when the conversation hits a lull. If the conversation reaches a dead end (and it might) pick up on something he mentioned before. Remember to use his own words.

    The conversation might go on for a long time or it might not. It's important to let your friend have a go until he feels comfortable. If you sense he has had enough, it's time to wrap up.
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  4. 4
    What do I do when he no longer wants to talk?

    After a while, might be a few minutes or a few hours, you friend might be tired and might not want to talk any more. It's important you give him the space you need. The best thing to do is to repeat that you are willing to help and listen to them any time. Try to make a pact with him and yourself that for a week or a month, he'll be your priority -meaning, if he calls you, be prepared to answer and talk to him or meet him for a longer chat.
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Final reminders

  • Though this article has friends in mind, it can be easily adapted to help out a complete stranger.
  • Extreme situations like a suicide threat can be dealt with following the same principles. However, because there is much more at stake you are advised to contact a professional. If that's not a possibility, refer to the points about not giving advice and opinions and especially never contradict the suicidal subject. Let them talk and prove you are listening.
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Tips and Suggestions for Talking to a Friend in Need

Remember that you can make a difference. You just need to find the right words to say.

  • Remember that your friend needs someone to listen, so listen, and pay attention to what he or she is saying.
  • If you have problems with any of these steps, ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Categories : Relationships

Recent edits by: Dougie, Grimm, Dunaverde

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