How To Offer Words of Advice
Have you ever had a bad day and wanted to talk to someone about it? So, you go through your mental Rolodex to find a good ear — someone who will not only listen but perhaps offer a few words to get you through whatever your current situation is. You’re not necessarily looking for answers, but maybe a different perspective. New light, or just something different to think about.
Finally, you choose someone. You call or text them and tell them about your day and about how you are feeling, hoping that they will at least give you something to hold on to, even if only for a little while. You pour your heart out and spill your day to this person and their response is not at all what you hoped to hear. Instead, this person makes the conversation about themselves or use your bad day as an opportunity to exercise their intelligence, religion, or “so called” deepness, and you are left dumbfounded; not knowing what the hell they are talking about. You then begin to wonder if they’ve heard a word that you’ve said to them.
At this point, you become frustrated and you begin to search of some way to end the conversation. If it’s a text conversation, you’d probably just stop responding and hope that they’ll soon get the message by not receiving anymore messages. By this time, you most likely feel worse. As if no one understands.
This happens often to people who deal with depression. We reach out to those who have offered themselves to us only to be let down.
Actually, both parties have a hand in this disappointment. It’s very important to know your audience before you share what is going on inside of you. Not everyone is capable of understanding or speaking to you on a level that you are able to latch onto.
I’ve found it to be effective to choose 5 people that I can always go to who are available and have nothing to lose or gain by listening to me. These are people that I trust and whose words are from the heart and not just extensions of their egos.
Although I chose 5 people, I remove and replace the people in that group appropriately. I understand that not everyone has 5 people that they can rely on as an ear when needed. Some of you may have more than 5, and that’s great! Choose a number that works for you. What is most important is that you choose people who can be trusted and understands what you deal with.
If You Are One Of The Chosen Ones…
If you are chosen as a source of comfort for someone, consider it an honor. This person has trusted you with their vulnerabilities. That’s not an easy thing for them to do. With that honor comes responsibility.
1- If You Offer Yourself, Be Available
This is not to say that you have to stop what you’re doing and tend to a friend who has had a bad day. However, if you are busy and able to communicate that–DO! It’s understood that you have your own life and can’t very well bring your day to a screeching halt. Respond when you can, but do respond! No response at all can be taken personally. No one wants to feel like a pest or too needy. Those types of feelings only add to the problem. A simple “I’m at work. I’ll call you later” text makes a difference. Then, follow up.
Remember Saturday Night Fever? Bobby kept telling Tony that he needed to talk, but Tony never had time. Eventually, Tony saw Bobby fall to his death. Sometimes an ear, a few words, or just knowing that someone cares goes a long way.
2- Be Mentally Available
When a friend calls you because they are feeling down, DO NOT DIVERT THE CONVERSATION TO YOURSELF! If this is a habit of yours, simply do not offer yourself. I’ve kicked many people out of my 5 for this. It’s very selfish.
3- This Is Not An Opportunity For You To Flex Your Brain Or Show How Deep You Are
If you are unable to talk to your friend on a level that they can relate to, SHUT UP! This is not the time to show off. If you cannot make your point simply, then most likely you don’t know what you are talking about– and that fact rings loud and clearly. As a result, you lose credibility. I’ve had experiences with turning to friends to tell them that I was feeling down (or worse) only to have my troubled heart met with supposed philosophical gibberish that left me thinking, “Why in the hell did I reach out to this person? What are they talking about?” Tone it down or shut it up. Remember, it’s not about you.
4- Do Not Become Religious With People Who Are Not Religious
Quoting scriptures to someone who is not religious is akin to speaking to them in a foreign language–they will not understand you. Don’t take your friends crisis as a chance for you to win souls for God (God doesn’t need your help with that). Even pastors (well, good pastors) understand that your message is lost when it falls on deaf ears. Humble yourself for understanding’s sake.
5- Take What You Hear Seriously
It’s not easy for people who suffer from depression to open up in dialogue. Usually they’ve dealt with a lot before they finally decide to talk. The thoughts in their heads are very real to them. Do not make light of them. If you hear something that disturbs you, be proactive. Reach out to their family members if you can or law enforcement if necessary.
6- If You Have Nothing To Offer, Offer Nothing
A listening ear can go a long way. If you feel that you can’t be of help, that’s okay. Sometimes all that is needed is a sounding board. Speaking our problems out loud gives us a chance to hear them and thus, work them out.
7- Be Great, Don’t Berate!
What seems minor to you could be very major to someone else. Life shattering even. When someone comes to you with problems that they are having, DO NOT TRIVIALIZE THEM! Remember: where you are strong, someone else is weak (and vice versa). They do not need to hear that “it’s nothing“, or that “it’s small“. Listen with understanding and try to step outside of yourself and discern what they are feeling, even if you feel that their situation is futile. Be gentle. Do not chastise or ostracize them. They came to you because they were hurting. Don’t make it worse.
8- Make Them Laugh If You Can!
My favorite “go to” people are the the ones that I know will listen seriously and then make me laugh. Channel your inner Richard Pryor and make them laugh! If nothing else, it takes their minds off of what’s troubling them.