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Cartoon: 8 Things You Need to Know When a Friend Needs You 

8 Things You Need to Know When a Friend Needs You

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

When a friend calls and says, "I need to talk," it is not usually about good news. Something has gone wrong for her, possibly very wrong, and she needs to talk. It says something about her trust and appreciation for you that you are the person she needs to talk to. So, unless the security of the world is at stake, dump everything and be there for your friend.

When this happens, there are a few things you need to know.


1. Listen

In truth, the only thing you truly need to do for your friend is to listen. Do not mess it up. Do not take out your telephone for any reason whatsoever. No! Not even if it is important. What your friend is going through is important, incredibly important to her. Telling her that an unknown caller or text message is more important than her is not going to make her feel any better. If your phone has the potential to distract you, visibly turn it off. That will make it clear where your priorities lie.

Instead, focus on listening and understanding. Do not judge your friend or her situation. Do not tell her you've been through the same thing only worse. This is not a competition. Just sit and listen.


2. Absolutely Do Not Offer Advice

You may feel you have the perfect advice for your friend. Maybe you do. But now is not the time. Unless your friend is threatening to do something stupid such as saying, "I'm going to kill him and that dumb blonde he left me for," while pulling a revolver out of the desk drawer, keep advice to yourself.

If your friend asks for advice, and this is likely, the best thing to do is reply with a question: "what do you think you should do?" Most likely, she will tell you precisely the advice she wanted to hear from you. Discuss her suggestion as much as possible by asking her more questions. If you are doubtful about what she wants to do, try and frame your concerns as questions rather than disagreement.


3. Ask Questions

As you listen, you will probably feel inclined to offer advice or make suggestions. If this happens, put the advice or suggestion into a question, ideally an open question. Instead of saying, "you should call the doctor and make an appointment," ask, "what are you going to do next?"

Instead of saying, "You should report her to your boss, that's bullying," ask, "How do you feel you should deal with this at work? What are your options?"

Such questions will help your friend focus and find the right actions for her to take.


4. Validate

Your friend has most likely been mulling over the situation for a while and has become more emotional about it with time. As a result, when she tells you about it, it may start to seem less serious to her. It may even seem to you that her problem is not a big deal. Ironically, these thoughts are likely to make your friend feel worse rather than better.

But it is a big deal to her. That is why she called you. That is why you are listening. So, validate her feelings. Say things to reassure her that she has been through a bad time; that is okay for her to be hurting; that what happened is important.

Remember, even if what happened to your friend is not okay, her pain is okay. It may not be pleasant for her, but it is okay to hurt from a bad experience.


5. Alcohol

If you and your friend drink, then you will likely be tempted to bring a bottle of wine or similar when you go to your friend. Within reasonable limits, this can be a good thing. A little alcohol can relax you and your friend and it may make it easier for her to open up to you. But alcohol is a depressant. Too much may bring your friend down further. It can also lower inhibitions and lead your friend to take action she may later regret. If your friend is suicidal, inclined towards self harm or short-tempered, alcohol will only exacerbate these feelings.


6. Professional Help

If your friend is in a very bad way, she may need professional help. If you feel this is the case, then you can break rule number one above and suggest seeking professional help. Of course, this could be in the form of a question: "have you considered seeing a psychiatrist about this?" If your friend is suicidal, seek professional help. Most areas have some kind of suicide hot-line that can be called at any time night or day.


7. Follow Up

Eventually, you will leave your friend and go home. She will have to get on with her life one way or another. Absolutely do not forget to follow up. Call your friend the next day and in a couple of days and next week. Ask her how she is progressing. If you run into her in the normal course of events, if you have reason to email her or chat with her o-line, ask her how she is doing like you really mean it. And listen. Offer to be there again when she needs you.


8. Confidentiality

It goes without saying that the conversation you have with your friend should stay between you and her unless she explicitly asks you to tell others. Gossiping after a friend has confided in you will not only damage your relationship with your friend, but it will also harm your reputation with others. Who will trust you with their secrets if you make it obvious that you cannot be trusted with secrets?


Being There

Being there for a friend is one of the most powerful statements of friendship. Fortunately, it is a simple task. It mostly involves listening, questioning and reassurance. Your friend is lucky to have you.

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