How to Be the Advice-Giver of Your Friend Group

I am not kidding when I say that I have typed into Google, “What to say when your friend is upset.” I’m not sure whether that makes me a really bad friend or a really good friend, but that’s a question for another day.

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Being able to help people is one of the most valuable parts of human connection. I think that we can all agree that it’s a really good feeling when a friend or loved one says to you, “Hey, can we talk for a second? I need some advice.” There’s something incredible about being trusted to give advice and be helpful in that way. The problem is that in some situations, it’s hard to know what to say. 

If your friend is sensitive, it can be even more difficult because you really don’t want to say the wrong thing. If your friend is hard-headed, it’s difficult to not come across as harsh or rude when you’re trying to get them to listen and understand. How do you gauge when your friend needs some tough love? When they just need you to listen? When it’s helpful to share your side of the story? When you shouldn’t even try to give advice?

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All of these factors run through my mind whenever someone is coming to me for help because the number one goal is to have them leave in a better place than when the conversation first started. It’s tricky, but having an idea of what to say and do where someone you love needs you is important. 

Here are some tips:


1. Be kind, no matter what.

I know that I mentioned the whole “tough love” thing earlier, but really, what advice comes down to is making the other person feel safe and cared for. Yes, sometimes friends need a person to give it to them straight, but what’s important is that you show them you love them unconditionally. Tough love can come later on in the conversation. Establish that you’re there for them, be genuinely kind and loving, and they will be more receptive to your feedback.


2. Try not to make it about you. 

This is a tricky one. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear another person’s perspective or experience. However, there’s a fine line between sprinkling in your own experiences when giving advice and full-blown making the conversation about you. Personally, if I’m talking to someone and an experience that I had that I’d like to share pops into my mind, I listen intently, wait for them to finish, and say something like, “That must be so hard, and I want you to know that it’s possible for you to get through this. (Insert your experience). I just want to give you the hope that you can overcome this.” That sentence started and ended with talking about the other person. By doing that, you establish that they are the most important part of the conversation. Also, maybe limit sharing one or two of your experiences because, again, this is about them.


3. Offer other resources.

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It’s possible that your friend or loved one may be going through something that is out of the scope of your control. You're welcome to offer guidance, but it's even more powerful if you offer up other resources that your friend can use if they are really struggling. Even gently suggesting that your friend might need some outside help is so important. For resources at BU, click here


4. Talk about multiple sides of the situation.

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This is where tough love comes into play. I know it’s nice to go to someone for help and have them agree with everything you say (it’s validating!), but at the same time, it’s helpful to hear other sides of the situation from an outside perspective. Playing the devil’s advocate and maybe prying, “Do you think that you could have done this?” or, “Well what did the other person do?” is helpful in allowing the other person to understand all sides of the situation.


5. Encourage positivity.

It’s common when you’re talking with a friend to just end up ranting and speaking negatively. It can feel good to vent in this way, but it is rarely productive. Maintaining your positivity, without being overbearing, is helpful in making your friend feel better, and more positive when they leave the conversation. 


6. Simply ask what they need from you.

If you don’t know what to say or do, ask what to say or do! Wording it, “What do you need from me?” or, “How can I help you,” lets the other person know that you’re willing to do anything in order to make them feel better. It also establishes that you have their best interest in mind. If they’re unsure of what they need, just listen to what they have to say and allow them to vent. Then, the two of you can come up with solutions together. 


7. Follow-up.

After somebody comes to you for advice, ask them how the situation that they needed help with went. A simple, “How are you doing,” or, “How did it go with so-and-so,” can be really powerful. It establishes that you are invested in their situation and you care about the outcome. It will remind them that you are the type of person that they can go to time and time again. 


Most importantly, understand that it’s okay if you say the wrong thing. Just being there for your friend is often times enough!