Recently I've had a lot of friends going through hard times. Not terrible times like great illness or financial loss, but times of growth like going through big life changes or breaking up with a significant other who you know isn't the right one.
It's nice to be able to provide some comfort or advice for a friend going through these sorts of things. If you don't know how, or aren't sure that you're particularly great at it, here are some ideas on how to improve.
Listen to your friend. Most people have the need to be heard, and it tends to be very important. Most people know the answers to their problems, if there's even a question at stake at all, and they just want to be heard. In other words, one of the greatest skills needed for supporting your friends is just shutting up and letting them talk.
This conveys to them that they're important and that their concern is valid.
If you listen to them thoroughly and you feel that their concern isn't valid, you should tell them. Being a friend means that it's your job to give honest feedback to friends when it will help them. Most of the time their concern is valid, though, and having it reach friendly ears will give them a lot of comfort.
Beyond listening, your next biggest opportunity to help them is to give them perspective that they may not have. Even the most rational and self-aware people have the ability to delude themselves when they're too close to a situation. If they're focused on the little picture, your job is to think about the bigger picture.
Sometimes you'll come to a situation where you can see the big picture and it is blantantly obvious what they should do. This seems to happen most in relationships, because people tend to make very emotional decisions where a more logical decision could serve them better.
If you share your opinion, make a good case for it, and they're still determined to do something you think is a bad idea, you may as well help them do it in the best way possible. For example, I have a friend who is pursuing someone that I think he shouldn't pursue. I tried to be a voice of reason and help him think about it a few different ways, but it became clear in the end that he was going to go after her no matter what.
So now I just support him and try to give him the best advice possible within the constraints that any advice telling him not to go after her will fall on deaf ears. It's better to give 70% good advice that he will take rather than 100% good advice that he will ignore.
After listening to your friend and offering perspective and support, you can also ask what they're looking for from you. You can say something like, "How can I help? Do you just need someone to listen to, do you want me to help you figure out a solution? Something else?"
Don't interject your own problems or concerns. Sometimes conversations are two-way dialogues, but if someone comes to you with a struggle they're working through, you can save your own stuff for later. Give them the gift of being fully present and focused on them. Often they're not in the best emotional state, so that level of attention can make them feel better.
Like so many other things, supporting friends is a skill that people don't actually think of an improvable skill. A little bit of thought on how you can best do it can make a big difference, especially to your friends who come to you for support.
Photo is a random little park near the palace in Tokyo. I had an hour to kill there while waiting for a friend so I worked from one of the benches while a guy practiced clarinet a couple benches down.
When you travel with someone for a year or two, you pick up their habits. One of Todd's habits that I most admire, and am thankful to have picked, up is the practice of treating strangers like friends. When he goes to a restaurant and the waiter asks him how he is, he tells him what's going on in his life and returns the question in such a way that it obligates a genuine response. When we leave a restaurant, everyone we know gets a hug.
I get nostalgic, mostly for times I wasn't alive for. Like the middle ages. And, more relevantly, like the days before computers and cell phones, when neighbors actually recognized each other, and maybe even talked to each other. Shopkeepers were called shopkeepers, and they knew their customers by name. Their conversations extended beyond a scripted sales pitch for a rip-off extended warranty. I miss these times because I've seen them in movies and read about them in books, not because I've really experienced them.
Simple habits can be profound. One such habit that is more important than ever is to treat strangers like friends. Facebook, cell phones, and other "social" technologies have done to friendship what laminate flooring did for hardwood floors. It made things easier and more accessible, but did so at the cost of substance. In fact, this is happening in pretty much every area of life, something I've realized more fully now that I'm trying to find meat with substance; it's almost impossible. So I try to treat everyone as though they're a real person, just in case they actually are. Unfortunately I can't answer all my email anymore, but when I do I try to write to the person as if they're my friend, rather than use stock replies (which I could do, since a lot of the things people write about are similar). Once in a while I even fill someone in on secret future plans or send them a draft of something. When interacting with random people in everyday life, I make an effort to actually listen to them and to talk about things that they may not have talked about with every person they've interacted with that day.
Question on "The Persistent and Timely Will Inherit the Earth" -
Which is the best methods for dealing with people that correspondences aren't as much interesting as many with other people, and that you don't feel there is a fit, but they are really nice and want to connect with you ?
One thing I've learned is that you never know who is going to rise in the world.
Just writing to a random stranger on the internet shows a decent amount of tenacity on someone's part. Most people won't do it. So you're already filtered down to people who will put themselves out there a little bit and take a bit of action.
I know a guy who applied to work for me in a job when he was still in high school some years ago. I couldn't say yes to that - didn't want to deal with labor law, signing a contract with a minor (including IP assignment, work for hire... I don't know, seemed like it would have been a nightmare) - but he seemed like a good guy, so I took him out to lunch at a little Greek restaurant near my office and just asked what's going on his life.