Speaking to a distressed friend

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Tone to Use

The tone of voice that you use when asking a question can make a big difference.

Bad Tone Good Tone
“What’s up mate!” – said with irritation will not be useful for obtaining any information. “Mate, you seem a bit flat/down at the moment, what is happening?” – said with a normal concerned voice –  is much more likely to elicit a response.

A good way of setting the right tone is to reflect on the emotion your friend /colleague might have used when they spoke to you. Or alternatively the emotion you detected from their behaviour.

“You sound frustrated. Can you tell me what is going on?”

“You seem a bit distracted today, how’s everything going at home?”

“You looked tired in the tute. Are you sleeping OK?”


Be careful not to exaggerate the emotion or behaviour. For example:

“You look really sick and skinny. Are you eating?”

You probably will just get a defensive response from a question like that.


If they say, “Life is a bit shitty.”

It is best not to say,

So your whole life is Shit. What are you going to do about it?

Whereas, what you could say is,

What is the bit that is shitty?