Creating A Helpful Conversation When A Friend Is Going Through A Rough Time

For the sake of today’s blog entry, say you have a good friend named Jake who you have known for years.

Your friend Jake calls you at four in the afternoon barely able to get out the words, “I just lost the job I had for twenty years.  Five months ago we got a new boss and he never liked me.  He called me into the his office and said I had to go because I was not keeping up with my paperwork.”

You switch off your computer monitor and the thought goes through your head, “How in the world do I help my wonderful friend?”

Jake’s focus is naturally on the shock, anger and frustration about being unexpectedly fired.  So the best place to start helping Jake is probably right where Jake is focused.  As the conversation progresses, you may be able to help Jake broaden his focus so that he feels more in control and better about the whole situation, but at this moment Jake needs to talk about the loss of his job.

Simply, repeating back to Jake as much as you can remember of what he just said can show Jake that he is being listened to and also have a calming effect. You could start by saying something like this, “So you got a new boss in your office five months ago….” and continue on to repeat the rest of what he said.

Or you can let Jake know that you are listening closely by delivering the content and emotion of what he said back to him but not using his exact words.  In this case, you might say something like “So you are saying you are very frustrated.  Your boss let you go today because he said that you didn’t complete paperwork when he wanted you to.”

Whether you choose to repeat what Jake said back to him or to paraphrase what he said or employ a combination of the two techniques, you show Jake that you heard him and also allow him a chance to slow down his thoughts, which could well be racing, and rehear what he just said.

Once you understand what Jake is dealing with and he feels that you have listened to him, you have an opportunity to begin conversing with Jake in a way that shifts the conversation.

Your purpose in shifting the focus of the conversation is to help Jake feel strong as he deals with this sudden crisis in his life.  So you can begin to remind Jake of the strengths he has.  You can do this by saying something like, “Wow you have twenty years work experience and are well-respected in the field.  It sounds like you would be a good catch for a lot of companies out there.”  Or you can invite Jake to create his own list of strengths by asking the question, “What are your major strengths as you apply for new jobs?”

To end your conversation with Jake consider asking him to reflect on the positive part of his week. Jake presumably had some good things happen in his week before his boss fired him.   Maybe say something like, “I understand that you are thinking a great deal about the news you got today about your job, but aside from that what has been nice about the past week?”  This question gives Jake a chance to enjoy his life again, and to remember more of his strengths.

 Game of the Day

In the next conversation you have with someone who is dealing with an area of struggle try the following practices:

 1.  Repeat or paraphrase what the person says so that you show them that you are listening closely and also allow them a chance to slow down their thoughts.

 2.  Once you understand what they are dealing with and they feel that you have listened to them, shift the focus of the conversation to the person’s strengths by making an observation or asking a question.

 3.  Finally, ask them to reflect on the positive part of their week.  This question gives them a chance to enjoy their life again, and to remember more of their strengths.

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