You should never counsel your family or friends as you can’t be objective in a close relationship. However, you can offer support and be there for them when they need to unload and are looking for a friend. So what are some tips that can help you with this?
1) Encourage them to talk; ask them what’s on their mind - If you think your friend’s depressed or is bottling something up don’t pretend you haven’t noticed … ask if something’s bothering them. And unless you get the sense that they don’t want to talk, be persistent and keep asking in a gentle, caring way. This will send the clear message that you genuinely care.
2) Give your full attention and listen carefully – If your friend is brave enough to share what’s really bothering them, then give them the respect of listening carefully – without interrupting or offering them advice. Pay close attention and focus, and try to understand their perspective on their problems, and how that makes them feel. The only time you should speak is to clarify a point, or to ask open questions that will help them unload more. Also, encourage them to talk through your use of body language – such as nodding while they’re talking and sitting very still. Never fidget, look around or get distracted while they’re speaking – as that sends the message that you’re losing interest fast.
3) Unless specifically requested, don’t offer them advice - Once you’ve got the gist of what’s happening with your friend, resist the instinct to give them some advice. This is often very hard as we usually want to help … but most people resent this – they just want to be heard. Instead, the best way forward is to keep on asking questions to help them find solutions to their problems for themselves.
4) Remember it’s all about them; it’s not about you – Most people want to somehow turn the conversation round to talking about them, and their own experiences. This is so annoying; it’s the worst thing you could do. You are meant to be focused on your friend’s experiences!
5) Be sensitive, respectful and non judgmental – Don’t react or seem shocked when they tell you something awful (like saying “OMG – I can’t believe you did that!”). And be tactful if you feel you must share something tough - as you honestly believe it would help to hear the truth. You don’t have to destroy them in your efforts to get real.
6) Nothing changes if we don’t do anything – Although it’s often helpful to unburden yourself if you just dump on others then nothing much will change. Thus, it’s important you encourage them to take some active steps – so ask them what they’ll do to try to start to turn their life around. Don’t only act as a crutch or a short term dumping ground.