The Dos and Don’ts of Talking to a Friend Who is Going Through a Tough Time

Supporting a friend during challenging times is not only an act of kindness but also a testament to the strength of our friendship. It is during these moments that our support can make a significant impact on their well-being. 

However, it’s essential to recognise that the way we communicate with them can either uplift or inadvertently add to their burdens. Understanding the dos and don’ts of effective communication becomes paramount in ensuring that our words and actions provide the comfort, understanding and support our friends genuinely need. 

These practical tips can help you navigate these conversations with grace and empathy, ultimately strengthening your friendship.

Do: Offer Your Support Unconditionally

When a friend is going through a rough time, the best thing you can do is offer your support and listen without judgment. This action allows them to be vulnerable without worrying about criticism or rejection and can be incredibly healing for their emotional well-being.

Unconditional support also means showing your friendship at its deepest level by being there for someone no matter what. This support reinforces the trust and connection between you and the person you support and lets them know they are not alone in their struggles.

Don’t: Say, “I Know How You Feel”

Even if you have gone through a similar experience, don’t assume you know exactly how your friend feels. Saying “I know how you feel” can unintentionally understate their struggles and make them feel unheard or misunderstood. It also can inadvertently dismiss or invalidate their unique experiences and emotions.

Instead, it’s more effective to express empathy by actively listening, validating their feelings, and offering support without assuming that you fully comprehend their specific circumstances.

Do: Listen Without Trying to Fix the Problem

During challenging moments, friends often seek someone to talk to or a safe space to vent and process their emotions without expecting immediate solutions or advice. 

Attempting to resolve the problem too soon also can place undue pressure and stress on your friend, inadvertently creating a sense of impatience or expectation for them to overcome their difficulties quickly. 

By prioritising active listening and providing support, you create a space of comfort and understanding, enabling them to navigate their challenges at their preferred pace.

Don’t: Disappear or Avoid Them

When times are tough, friends are needed the most. Avoid giving your friend space by not calling or making excuses not to see them. It can intensify their distress and loneliness, making them feel abandoned or isolated. Your presence and support can offer them the vital comfort and reassurance they need during this challenging period.

Continue inviting your friend for coffee or other activities as you normally would. While you don’t need to talk about the problematic situation every time you see them, make it clear that you are there for them if they want to open up.

Do: Offer Encouragement and Help Boost Their Morale

You need to become a catalyst by offering encouragement, igniting their motivation and inner strength to overcome challenges. You instil confidence and resilience when you acknowledge their efforts and express belief in their capabilities. Your uplifting words are a powerful source of positivity, inspiring hope and becoming a valuable wellspring of motivation.

Boosting their morale is a powerful antidote to negative emotions like self-doubt and despair. You can reignite their sense of worth and potential through your support and uplifting words, enabling them to restore their self-confidence and belief in their abilities.

Don’t: Downplay the Situation

When we dismiss a difficult situation as something of lesser importance, it creates a barrier to open communication. This action can make our friends hesitant to express their true feelings and concerns, fearing that we will dismiss or trivialise them. 

You should avoid phrases such as “it could be worse” or “everything will be fine” as they diminish your friend’s challenges and invalidate their feelings. Instead, show empathy for their situation by acknowledging their difficulties with statements like, “That sounds incredibly tough. I can understand why you feel that way.”

Do: Check-In Regularly and Ask If They Need Any Practical Support

Checking in regularly and asking if your friend needs any practical support shows your genuine care and keeps you informed about their well-being.

It does not have to be grandiose. You can send messages to say you’re thinking of them or drop by with a coffee or snack. You can also ask if they need help with chores, errands or meals. 

Practical support can help relieve stress and make them feel less alone. However, only provide help and advice if asked for. Unsolicited “help” may seem judgmental or make them feel incapable. Your friend will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Don’t: Take Their Anger or Frustration Personally

When struggling, your friend may become angry, irritable or frustrated. Do not engage or argue with them. Remain calm and remember their anger is not directed at you but is a result of their inner anguish and pain. 

Taking their reactions as personal assaults can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts, worsening their emotional state and impeding their ability to provide effective support. You can say, “I understand you’re feeling frustrated. I’m here for you.” Give them space if they need to cool off. 

Supporting your friend through difficult times requires patience, compassion and understanding. Although it may be challenging, your friendship and compassionate presence can significantly impact their well-being.

By practising these dos and avoiding the don’ts, we can strengthen our bond, provide meaningful support, and navigate these tough times together.