Helping you get through tough times

How to listen

If one of your friends is going through a tough time, the best thing you can do to help is be there to listen.

Let them talk

Statue of a pair of birdsGiving your friend the chance to talk helps them get stuff off their chest and manage how they’re feeling.

Sometimes if you’ve had a similar experience, it can be tempting to tell them your own story or jump in with comments or advice. This mightn’t be the right time to do that.

Giving them a chance to finish what they have to say before responding can be a challenge, but may be what they need.

When you jump in, they may feel you’re not really listening, so try to hold back.

Use open-ended questions

Open-ended questions, like the name suggests, let people open up a bit more. They often start with “How” or “What”. For example “How do you feel about …?” can open people up more than “Do you feel like…?”

What you’re then doing is letting them get whatever’s bothering them out in the open to figure it out. Another good way to approach this is to ask “Can you tell me about…?”

Body language

Open body language can make someone feel more comfortable speaking to you about what’s worrying them. Try and keep eye contact with the person you’re speaking with. Sit with your arms by your side or in your lap, rather than crossed. Stretch out rather than being squished up in a chair.

Think about the cultural background that your friend comes from. This can change what’s considered to be warm and friendly body language. Check out body language to find out more about this.

Restate what they’ve said

When someone is talking to you, it can be helpful to summarise what they’ve said. Say it back to them. This is especially helpful when you’re trying to clarify what they’ve said and let them know you’re listening.

Try not to do this too often, or it can look like you are just imitating them and not actually listening.

Give feedback

After the person you’re speaking with has shared the information they want to, give feedback. Let them know what you think about what they’ve said. Keep it relevant to what it is they’ve said.

Don’t judge

When you do respond, try and be as supportive as possible towards your friend. Keep a really open-mind and help them figure out the best solution to their problem.

Validate the other person

When someone is describing a situation, and it sounds like they’re having a hard time telling it, it’s OK to say, “It sounds like this is really hard for you to tell me. I appreciate you telling me about this.”

Be supportive

Reassure your friend that their feelings are ok and that there will be a way through whatever is going on

Things to avoid

There are certain things that can make the other person feel like we are not listening, such as words like…

“Why?” – Be careful about when and how you use, “why?” If you’re going to use it, be more specific about what it is you’d like to know about. When we ask too many “why?” questions, the other person may feel challenged and become defensive.

“Don’t worry about it…” – If we tell someone not to worry about it, there is a chance they may feel that you’re not hearing their concerns. If they’re worried about something, try to understand why they would feel that way, and offer alternative perspectives.

Avoid giving advice – Advice is a tricky thing. If you’ve been through something similar, it can be helpful to let them know what worked for you, but everyone’s different. They might need to find a different way of dealing with what’s happening. Let them know your opinion is just an opinion. They shouldn’t feel they have to agree.

Don’t interrupt – Remember, it’s important to let them talk. Sometimes just talking about your problems and having someone there to listen can make you feel better already. Try to let them finish what they want to say before you respond.

Getting help

It’s important you mind your own mental health. Sometimes it can be hard to help a friend who is going through a tough time but you don’t need to do this all on your own. There are plenty of people out there to help you. It’s OK to confide in your own trusted friends and family or find a little extra support for your friend if what they’re going through is a bit much for you to handle.

Sometimes when we’re going through a tough time we may need a little extra support from a professional. Your friend might find it helpful to talk with someone like a counsellor, psychologist or GP.

You can help them find someone to talk to. Offer to go to with them, if that would make them feel more comfortable. For information on people who can help your friend, check out our getting help section.

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This article was last reviewed on 01 May 2017

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