Let’s face it: we don’t always have good days. Sometimes a lot of things happen at work and we end up stressed; sometimes we run out of energy and a negative mindset sets in; Or it could just happen that we wake up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning. You know, it’s normal, it happens. And the truth is, just as it happens to us, it happens to the people we care about too. Sometimes they’re just having a bad day and need some help getting out of that state.
Now, when that happens, what do you do? Ok, I realise you can’t actually answer that right now, so I’ll just go right out and tell you the one thing you should do that would help them the most. But, first, you should be aware of a few common behaviours that make it more difficult for them to open up.
So, these behaviours are as follows:
7 Things To Avoid When Trying To Help The Person You Love
Telling Them What To Do
To be honest, this is something we should avoid doing as much as possible, and not just in situations in which we’re trying to help. And this is because nobody likes being told what to do.
Being told what to do usually brings us right back to when we were teenagers and were being scolded by our parents for not having done something we should have. It’s not pleasant, and I’m sure we can agree it’s not helpful either.
So, especially in situations we’re trying to show our support, giving them orders, threatening, moralising or even preaching are things we’d do best to steer clear of.
Keep this in mind: The only times we tell someone what to do, even if we know the solution to their problem – is if they ask. Otherwise, they may discard our solution, or, in extreme cases, even resent us for it.
Yes, you don’t have to tell me, this one sounds a bit confusing. If we can’t give advice, how are we supposed to help?
Well, before anything else, let’s go over what advising actually means. When someone is trying to advice a second person, what they’re essentially implying without even noticing is that, they know better. And, of course, this makes sense. If we have a solution, and we think it may help someone who hasn’t gotten there yet, we feel compelled to let them know. We just want to help. What we aren’t doing, however, is putting ourselves in the shoes of the person receiving the advice.
First of all: Did they ask for the advice? If they didn’t, then that’s a clear sign perhaps that’s not what they need right now…
If they did ask for the advice: How is it being given to them? Are you telling them what to do, or giving them a suggestion?
You see, suggestions are very powerful. Much more powerful than advices, actually, because when we give someone a suggestion – we’re essentially giving them a choice. This way, they feel they may either follow it or not, and end up feeling absolutely no pressure from us.
Like we mentioned before, nobody likes being told what to do, which is what we do when we give advice. But if we simply give them choices instead – we’ll find people are much more inclined to hear what we have to say.
Making Them Feel Guilty
Sadly, this is all too common. Of course, when we’re trying to help, we’re doing it with the best intentions, but, sometimes, a lack of attention for our words and actions may cause us to say things that end up sounding differently from what we had previously intended. And one example of this is by making our partners feel guilty.
I get it, they should hold responsibility for their actions. But is judging them, criticizing or blaming them going to do that? Well, no. Odds are, it will just make them very defensive and appoint that responsibility to something else outside of them.
So, saying things like “it’s your fault”; “How could you do something like that?”; “That’s very [insert negative trait here] of you” should be reconsidered.
Remember that the point here is to make them feel understood and valued for their beliefs and feelings. And in the off chance they do need to be made aware of their responsibility, there are calmer ways to do it, such as this one.
Undermining The Problem
Have you ever had a problem, and someone said to you “Oh, that’s nothing.”?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I cringe every time I hear that. Of course we know there are far worse problems. But that doesn’t disqualify how we feel, nonetheless.
Now, here’s the thing: when someone is telling you something they’re feeling bad about is for one reason, and one reason only: they want to be acknowledged. The reason why this behaviour is a no-no is because it does precisely the opposite. It makes the person feel like you aren’t even trying to understand them and that’s just going to cause them to pull away.
If that isn’t what you intend, like I’m assuming it isn’t, refrain from telling them things like “you’re upset over that?!”; “There’s worse”; or even the classical “My problem is worse, but I’m still here”. That’s not what they need, and there’s a 0% chance it will help.
Oh boy, we just hit a nail-biter. This is the number 2 most common way people find to help someone (right after advising, of course). In fact, if you go to a psychologist this is what you’ll find most of the time. So, why is it that something even psychologists do should be avoided?
Well, for starters, most of the time, that’s not what the person needs. And you’ll find that, if that is what the person wants, that’s just a coping mechanism for them not to take responsibility for the problem.
But, here’s why this is really a problem:
First of all, analysing is subjective. It’s like going to an art gallery and looking at a painting. If you’d go in and ask all the people who looked at it for their opinion, you’d soon realise they all saw it from different perspectives. Here, it’s the same thing. Although, in this case, it holds worse consequences because the person may actually believe us and accept our subjective perspective as reality. And this leads to the second problem:
Analysing is simply trying to uncover a deeper reason for the problem. But, in truth – reasons don’t matter. A reason is simply a rationalization of the cause of the problem. It’s just trying to justify a problem or a bad feeling, so it becomes acceptable. In short, it’s ego (you’ll want to read this to understand where I’m coming from). So, analysing won’t help, and it may even give the person an excuse to keep feeling that way/have that problem.
Clearly, not the intended outcome, right? All right, so let’s move on.
And, “why?” – you ask? – Well, how do you really feel when someone asks you “why?”?
Imagine that you’re having a crappy day and you tell someone that you’re not feeling very well and they ask you “Why?”. How do you feel? Doesn’t it make you feel a bit judged, like if the person was pointing the finger at you for how you felt? It makes you feel somewhat misunderstood, doesn’t it?
The fact that it has a negative impact on how we feel already lets us know this is something we should avoid doing to others. Because the last thing we should do when trying to help someone is make them feel guilty and judged for how they feel.
So, this is reason number 1 for not asking this common question. Reason number 2 is because, just like analysing, it is trying to find a reason for the problem. And, again, reasons don’t matter.
So, if you truly want to help them uncover the cause of what’s troubling them opt for these questions instead: “What makes you feel [insert here]?”; “What made you [insert action here]?”; “How does [insert here] make you feel?”. In short, just change “why?” to questions starting with “How” or “What” and you should be off the hook.
Bring It Back To Our Experiences
Yap. This is problematic too… And it’s often what makes people believe that we’re not actually listening.
Have you ever had a problem and needed someone to listen and the person you spoke to did nothing but bring it back to them? Made you feel really unheard, didn’t it? And somewhere along the conversation you might have even thought “damn… it feels like they just want to talk about them…”.
Yeah, you see, when we tell someone our experiences that are similar, we do so because we think there’s something valuable that we learned that may be beneficial to share. But what we usually fail to acknowledge is that, sometimes, people only share things with us because they want to feel heard and understood.
So, once again, before volunteering, wait for them to ask. It’s really the best way to make sure that, when we do share these experiences, they will be as valuable to the other person as we intend them to be.
What We Should Do Instead
Phew… Ok, so, we pretty much put all the common things people do to help others in the not-to-do list. This must be making you wonder how the hell are you supposed to help them, then.
Well, simple. You see, most of these behaviours have one thing in common. And that is that it assumes we’re the ones helping them. This doesn’t only put the responsibility for making them feel better on us, this also makes us the focus of the conversation.
In most of these behaviours, we’re showing up to the person implying we know better than them, that we have the authority to help. We may have that authority, and we may not even realise that’s what we’re doing (that’s what’s most likely, actually), but this doesn’t change the fact that these behaviours stem from our ego, and our sense of importance. And any behaviour that’s focused on us isn’t going to be help the person who really needs it.
So, here’s what you can do instead:
Reflect Back To Them
Easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is:
- Listen, attentively, and make sure we’re following the person on their line of thought;
- Put ourselves in their shoes and pretend, for a little while, we’re them and how we’d feel if we were living their current situation. Think of it like you being an actor and having to incorporate that persona;
- From that perspective – the perspective of the other person – pay attention to how they describe what they’re feeling and what the problem is.
- Show them you understand by expressing their words back to them.
The expressing their words back to them part is especially important because, in people’s heads, certain words are anchored to certain emotional states. Much like the word “hate” is usually linked to a negative emotion, and “love” to a positive one. Now, the emotions linked to words vary from person to person. And that’s why telling them their words back to them is so important – because if we want to make someone feel understood, we have to say the words that are linked to their emotional state.
So, in a real-life situation it should go somewhat like this:
Person 1: “Hey, I’m feeling bad about something. Can we talk?”
Person 2: “Of course. And, that’s a shame (acknowledgement). What’s making you feel bad? “
Person 1: “I just had a fight with my sister. I was trying to handle it on good terms, but she slammed the door on my face.”
Person 2: “Damn, I’m sorry to hear that (acknowledgement)… How are you feeling?”
Person 1: “Pretty down, actually. We used to be very close, but now we can’t even talk to one another politely.”
Person 2: “Yeah, I see how this must be having a toll on you (how it must be making you feel bad) (reflection). It’s really sad when we drift apart from the people we care about and suddenly even holding a conversation with them seems to be impossible. (reflection)”
Person 1: “It is…” or “Indeed” (which is the person agreeing with you – sign you’re getting it right)
And you simply continue on with the conversation asking questions, acknowledging how the person feels and reflecting back to them. The key here is to be as selfless as possible. Remember that they’re the ones who need you right now.
And, now that you already know the do’s and don’t’s when showing someone support, have fun helping the people around you. They will certainly appreciate you for it.