My Friend is her School's Unofficial Guidance Counsellor
So I asked her for tips on how to be helpful!
But seriously… every time we talk, she tells me a story of another student asking her for help. There are five themes I learned from her stories:
- Recognising when to help
- How to comfort well
- How to listen well
- How to encourage others
- How to build trust
I’ll cut the filler and jump straight to the actionables for each theme 😉
#1 Recognising when to help
Check in with friends every ______ period of time.
When someone is visibly stressed / seems to be hiding things, ask subtle questions:
- “Hey, how have you been recently?”
- “Are you tired today?”
- “How are things back home?”
- “How are things at school?”
If they refuse to talk about it, only press if their safety is at stake.
- In that case, ask direct questions: “I noticed ______ and I’m really concerned about you and I really want to help.”
- People can be nervous in person. If they don’t want to talk, let them know they can text you at a later time.
#2 How to comfort well
Acknowledge what the person says and prompt them to keep going. The goal is to let them vent it all out.
- “I’m so sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do to help?”
- “I’m really sorry that happened to you”
- “I can’t believe ____ did that. I don’t know what they were thinking.”
- “I can see how that causes a lot of pain.”
Ask them about solutions they’ve tried before suggesting yours.
- “Have you had this happen in the past?”
- “When did it start?”
- “How are you dealing with this right now?”
- “Have you talked to anyone else about this?”
Tell them it’s okay to be vulnerable. Don’t rationally tell them to ‘get over it.’ Especially if they’re crying, as they may feel ashamed.
- “It’s okay to express your emotions. You can let it out.”
- Quietly talk to them alone if they’re crying.
- Offer to give them space: “Don’t worry if you need some time alone. I’ll make sure you can have some space.”
Let them know if you relate to the problem — IF it’s not a very serious or unique issue. It can be comforting.
- It can help to ‘double-check’ that you understand their issue beforehand: “It sounds like the issue is _____?” If they say yes, then proceed.
If you’re the reason they’re upset, apologise specifically:
- “I’m so sorry for being insensitive in saying _____.”
- “I’m sorry, I just realised I’ve been really hard on you. Saying _____ was uncalled for.”
If you don’t know the person well, tell them what you noticed was wrong and that you care. Give them the option to text back later.
Follow-up via text at the end of the day. It shows you care + people may be more comfortable virtually.
#3 How to Listen Well
To actively listen:
- Say back what you heard
- Ask followups
- Remind yourself not to think about what to say next
- Nod your head
- Say/text tiny affirmations: “Uh-hm. What? Really? I’m so sorry.”
If you don’t relate to a problem, just acknowledge that you’re listening. Use the example prompts in #2.
Don’t be rational when they’re emotional. Don’t show judgement if you don’t think their problem is a big deal. That includes body language: not scoffing, laughing, widening your eyes, etc.
If people are too vague / complicated, just tell them you’re confused. “I’m sorry, could you please explain that?”
#4 How to encourage others
Use specific examples when giving compliments. It’s more believable.
Still, they might not respond to compliments. It’s usually okay.
- If they’re usually shy, it’s okay if they don’t respond to compliments.
- If they’re usually outgoing but start being awkward, ask if you said something wrong.
Tell them specific examples of past successes they’ve had. This can help with hopelessness / insecurity.
- If they used to be excited about _____ and are now demotivated, remind them what motivated them to start with.
If they’re making a big deal out of a problem, ASK THEM to break down the problem / take a tiny action to fix it. People believe what they say themselves more.
- “How could we make that better?”
- “Can we break down that problem?”
- “Maybe we could focus on one part of that issue?”
P.S. People compliment you about things they like to be complimented about. Notice what others compliment you about + compliment them about those things.
#5 How to Build Trust
Make eye contact. And smile :-)
Share personal stories. Ex: about your youth, family, hobbies, etc. And invite them to reciprocate.
- “Have you also experienced something like this?”
Find connections with their past or present lives. Or their future goals.
- Past connections build comfort. Ex: “Wow, we both did Girl Scouts!”
- Present connections build understanding. Ex: “Yeah, I’ve also been having work stress spill over at home.”
- Future connections build excitement. Ex: “I’m dreaming so much about living like an adult in university!”
Show appreciation. Especially about little things.
- “I really appreciate you trusting me enough to talk about this.”
- “You’ve been really brave in sharing all this. Thank you.”
- “I think it’s so important that you’re looking for new solutions instead of giving up.”
Tell them your intention is to help them:
- Before giving advice, say: “I was thinking of how to help you with ______ and…”
Tell them your intention is to be honest. Especially during disagreements.
- “I know this sounds unnatural, but I want to be honest with you. I actually think _____.”
Still, sometimes people won’t reciprocate trust / vulnerability. It’s easier to get yourself to move on than to get them to change.
Special thanks to Ayleen Farnood to sharing all this wisdom. And for going through the trouble of learning it the hard way and making hundreds of lives brighter in the process :-)