Did you ever have a friend or family member tell you they need help? It usually starts this way:
- I hate my job.
- I’m having problems with spouse/significant other/ child/ dog/ cat.
- I’m so tired all the time.
- My back/head/knee/foot hurts.
The lead-in is always general. People do this to test the waters. If you react too harshly, start talking about your own problems, or brush them off, they still have the chance to move on, ego in-tact.
But if you want to be helpful, this is where you do two things:
- Listen: Listen just a few seconds longer than you think you should, even if there is a seemingly awkward pause in the conversation. Every single one of us wants nothing better than to jump in, just waiting for our turn make everything about us! It’s human nature. We crave recognition and validation. Fight it, just for a few seconds
- Ask Specific Questions: This is a case where you want to be helpful, but the only way to really do that is to force your friend to dig a little deeper. If you ask the right questions, it almost doesn’t matter what the answers are. As your friend approaches their problem from the new angle you’ve posed, they will often come up with their own solution before you even get the chance to offer a response!
I stumbled on this little secret in my early days as a reporter. When I was building up my interviewing skills, I’d sometimes “practice” on friends and family, asking many thoughtful questions purposely in conversation, as a way of becoming more natural.
Over time I learned just how helpful it can be to do this for almost anyone. Even though it started out as a selfish pursuit of mine–to hone a new skill–it almost always turned out better for both of us.
Here’s a (super general) example:
Friend: I’m really sick of my industry. I think I need out.
You: Hmm. It is the industry, or something more specific, like your company or your boss? I read that 50% of people leave their bosses, not their jobs.
Friend: I actually think it’s the company. I love my boss, but there was just another round of layoffs and I can’t focus when I’m constantly worried that I’ll be next.
You: Do you think you could talk to your boss directly? If you’re already worried about getting laid off, there might not be much risk in bringing it up.
Friend: She does always tell me to let her know if I’m thinking of leaving. And I never was before this. I can bring it up in our next one-on-one.
And there, you have a great start at being truly helpful. You didn’t really solve anything in this case, you just ended up guiding your friend to a solution she already had in mind!