Speaking to a distressed friend

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How to respond to what you’ve been told

Here are some golden rules

    • Listen
    • Try not to make suggestions too readily
    • Don’t over sympathise


This is the MOST important thing you can do.

There is no point asking a question if you are not going to really listen to the response. More than anything else people want to feel like someone is listening to them and not just jumping to conclusions and thinking they know all about that problem.

Don’t make suggestions

Try not to dive in and make suggestions too quickly, or maybe don’t make any suggestions at all. Spend at least a few minutes listening and asking some more questions about the situation. Demonstrate that you have understood what they are telling you by clarifying it with them and checking that you have the story straight.

Making suggestions can sometimes seem like you don’t think they have the resources to deal with anything, which can be a bit insulting. If you’ve listened to their situation and tried to understand how they feel first, then you might find out that they have already tried things and you are just telling them something they’ve already tried, perhaps without success.

So, hold off on the advice and get more of the story first.

Don’t over sympathise

You might think you are sympathising well by saying something like,

“Oh, that is really terrible!”

But this sort of statement does the following:

    • It stops conversation in its tracks and it is difficult to go further.
    • It emphasises the ‘terrible’.

A better way of moving forward after hearing some of the story/problem is this

“So how have you been coping with all that?”

“How do you feel about all that?”

“How is all this affecting you?”