In the movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” Julia Roberts sets out to stop the marriage of her best friend, in hopes he’ll marry her instead. Her other buddy, played by Rupert Everett, watches disapprovingly. Interestingly, he continues to offer his friendship without judgement. When things get too tough to handle, he arrives to be with her. It’s clear she’s doing the wrong thing, but Rupert Everett says very little. He listens, gives his opinion when asked, and is basically just there for her.
Usually when a friend or loved one has a problem, they DON’T want advice. They merely want to be heard and need someone to listen with empathy — not tell them what to do. You can probably think of times when you’ve wanted to discuss a problem and had to endure someone’s opinions and suggestions. Or maybe you were the one to offer a suggestion. People love to solve other’s problems. Unfortunately, this rarely helps. People leave bad relationships when they’re ready, not when someone else suggests it. Same thing with drugs and alcohol. You can’t get someone else to stop — they must decide for themselves.
What you can do is be a good listener. Listen without interruption or judgement. Offer a hug. If your opinion is requested, share it but don’t argue it. This may seem passive, but it’s exactly what the other person needs.
When should you speak up? If someone is making a bad choice that affects you, then you should say something. However, it’s only appropriate to discuss the problem in regards to how it affects you. For example, let’s say a friend starts smoking. You wouldn’t tell them to quit, but you would ask them not to do it in your car, or where you’ll have to breathe the smoke. If the problem is about you, then you’re completely right to say something. While it may hurt you to see them smoke, it’s really their problem and your disapproval won’t make a difference. They have to quit for themselves.
So keep that advice to yourself unless asked. The better listener you are, the better friend you’ll be.
For more information on being a better listener, read Habit 5 in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey.
If someone in your life is hurting themselves and you’d like some support, go to Where To Get Help.
Scott Greenberg, Speaker, Author, Leadership Consultant
Business coach, providing motivation, team building and leadership training for groups and individuals looking for optimum performance.