When a friend is agonizing over a life decision, what’s the best way to help them? Many possible approaches come to mind. Perhaps it’s helpful to simply listen, let them talk through the options. Maybe giving input could help, sharing a new perspective. Our first instinct is to jump in and help however we can.
It’s really great when that jumping process can involve some expectation-setting first. We can take a moment to ask the friend what they think would be most helpful for them. Do they want advice, do they want conversation, or do they just want an opportunity to talk through their thoughts?
If they don’t know what would be helpful for them, then it’s up to us to suggest an approach. I would recommend starting with pure listening. Walk me through the decision you face, how you’re thinking about. Help me understand. What do you mean by this? Can you provide an example of that? Helpful friends seek first to fully understand the situation. Without a lay of the land, it’s going to be hard to choose the right destination.
After more listening than we’d normally (instictually) perform, we can start transitioning to summary mode. OK, let me repeat back to you how I’m hearing your thoughts. You’re facing this decision, and here are the things which matter to you. Is that right? Active listening becomes real empathy, true understanding of another person’s situation. If we have stated the situation so accurately that they wish they had recorded our words for themselves, then we’ve done a good job making real progress.
Only with full mutual understanding of the situation can we now lend our perspective. Look, I’m not sure if you’re thinking carefully enough about this. We can ask pointed questions: do you think this is really more important than that? We can validate or encourage our friend where they aren’t capable of doing it themselves: if you decide to go for this option, let’s remember that you’re great at overcoming this type of challenge, so maybe it’s not so scary as it sounds. Deep affirmations aren’t just things to nod at and say thanks. Rather, they are the things which bring tears and warm hearts.
With practice, this process becomes second-nature. It starts to pervade our life interactions. At work, at home, at the gym, with strangers on the bus. We’ll be better friends to our friends, and better family to our family. People will start coming to us for help, so let’s use the superpower of effective advice-giving wisely.