Much of life revolves around figuring out how to live with others, getting questions answered, settling disagreements, making tough decisions … solving “people problems”, both our own and those of others. Problem solving is a valuable skill to have in today’s hectic and challenging world, and knowing how to help a friend with their issues can be a real relationship builder!

Let’s consider how we might help a friend with a challenge in their life. Should we get involved? What should we do or say? What could we do to help?

Primarily, we should try to RESPOND to someone in trouble and try not to REACT to their situation.

There can be an automatic mindlessness to our “reaction” that may not always serve the needs of others very well… careful thought and consideration is usually absent in a “reaction”.

A response, though, is much more an act of the will and not so much automatic, and therefore is usually the “high road” that we should try to stay on when trying to help someone that has had a break down on the highway of life.

Here are some suggestions to consider when we want to help a friend in need:

  1. First and foremost… invite the other person to talk and then LISTEN carefully.
  2. Listen and, for the moment, suppress any thought of what you are going to say in response. You can’t listen well when you are thinking about what you want to say.
  3. Listen and, if there’s a lot on your friend’s plate, take notes so you don’t forget anything important said.
  4. Listen carefully, to see if the other person is asking for your help or advice. If they don’t ask for it you shouldn’t be giving it … simple as that. Maybe they are just asking for you to listen to them. Can you do that for them?

    (Wow! The first 4 steps are all about listening. Many of us need to be reminded of this because we seem to be predisposed to constantly wonder when it will be our turn to talk!)

  5. Ask questions to confirm that you have heard the other person correctly.
  6. If they want your help with the matter at hand, consider wrapping up your time together by saying something like “I’m going to really think about what youve said and get back to you, OK?”. This will buy you some time so that you can give the next step a try.
  7. By yourself, consider the possibilities. You might try using a piece of paper with a line drawn down the middle, putting the “plusses” on one side and the “minuses” on the other … to separate out the wheat from the chaff that you harvested from your listening. Just lay everything out. It’s an old technique but it really can help an answer to come forth from the fog of complaint and turmoil.
  8. Now try to pull it all together to see if a point of action comes to you which might help your friend.

Remember that it’s OK to NOT have an answer to your friend’s problems or an action plan to lead them to the promised land … the simple truth is that the act of you LISTENING to them in their time of need and confusion was GOOD MEDICINE all by itself.

We all need to practice the art of LISTENING more !