November 4, 2013

Supporting Friends: What to Do When There is Nothing to Say. ~ Chris Miller

One of the best things you can do is to be a good listener.

As difficult as it is to go through your own rough patches, it is just as hard to watch your loved ones experience difficulties too. But what are you supposed to do when someone you care about is going through a life crisis? From foreclosure and serious illness to a death in the family and addiction, it can be difficult to know how to help a suffering acquaintance, co-worker, friend or family member.

Though you probably can’t solve their problems, there are simple ways you can show your support during times of personal crisis.

Listen Actively

During times of crisis, one of the best things you can do is be a good listener. Let your friend know that they do not need to feel threatened or judged around you because you want to provide a safe space for them. When you are listening, be present. Let the other person say whatever they need to say. Do not simply pretend to listen. Invest yourself in the conversation to show that you really care about what is going on.

Ask questions that will prompt them to share their feelings. Do not do other activities while you are listening. Put all of your focus and attention on the speaker. This will help you to truly understand the situation and gain some empathy for them.

Speak Carefully

Sometimes the hardest part of listening to a friend is knowing what to say.

It can feel awkward to console someone, especially if you don’t fully understand the situation or why they feel the way they do. However, you should avoid sweeping generalizations or trying to say that you know how they feel. In all reality, you don’t know how they feel. You may have had a similar situation in your own life, but your reaction was probably different from how this person is reacting now.

When you ask questions, make sure that they are ones that will be helpful for your co-worker. Avoid questions that may seem too personal or like you are prying. Also avoid saying things that make their feelings seem invalid or unjustified. After listening, try to ask questions that direct the conversation in a positive way and give your friend opportunities share their feelings on the situation at hand.

Offer Help

Someone who is grieving, stressed, or otherwise emotionally occupied may not reach out and ask for help. If you want to provide help, it is important that you ask specifically what you can do for them. Questions like “What can I do to help you?” are vague, and most people won’t provide a concrete answer. But by asking, “When can I bring you dinner?” or “When could I watch your children for you?” they will be more likely to give you a clear answer and accept the help that you are offering.

Some people will still not accept help when it is offered.

This could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are letting their pride get in the way or what you are offering isn’t something that meets their needs. Most people won’t ask for you to help them with one specific need though. When you feel it is appropriate, you can serve this friend without their knowledge. Drop a meal by their home or pull some weeds for them while they are away just to make their burden a little lighter.

A great way to offer help is simply by letting your loved one know that you are nearby. Even if your help is not needed or accepted, your friend can have the knowledge that you are willing to be there if anything comes up that they will need more support for.

Update Other Friends

If your struggling loved one has made it clear that they are okay with other people knowing about the crisis in their life, it is important that all of you be on the same page about it. This will save your friend from the burden of having to retell their experience over and over again, particularly if it is a painful story to tell.

If one person is particularly close to the one in the crisis, ask for updates on how your friend is doing or how the situation is going. This way you will be able to be more sensitive to the situation, have a better knowledge of appropriate things to say, and know what offered help will be most useful. You can also share concerns with their family or friends and come up with something that you can all do together to show your love and support.

No matter the situation, be sensitive to your friend’s needs. Whether they are grieving the loss of a loved one or seeking treatment for addiction, make their work environment as safe and trustworthy as possible. If they are not ready to move forward and take bigger steps, don’t force them. Let them know that you and the entire office are there to give support and love.


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Assistant Ed: Judith Andersson / Ed: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Pixoto.}

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