How many times has a friend come to you for advice, but you don’t say what you’re actually thinking back?
Though your true thoughts are on the tip of your tongue, you fear it will hurt your friend’s feelings or change the relationship if you share your opinion.
Internally, you debate:
Should I tell my friend what I think she (or he) wants to hear?
Should I share my opinion?
Should say nothing at all?
There isn’t a right answer to this question, but here are five things I consider when deciding what to do.
Differentiate between advice-seeking and support-seeking.
A good place to start is to figure out if your friend is actually seeking your advice or if she only wants to vent.
Most of the time when a friend tells you about a problem, she isn’t really looking for your opinion or advice. Rather, she just wants you to listen and validate how she feels.
That being said, there will be times when your friend actually wants your input.
So how do you differentiate between the two?
If you know your friend well, you might be able to sense what she needs. If you’re not sure, just straight up ask her what kind of support she’s looking for.
Reflect on your relationship.
The next step is asking yourself this question:
Is this person one of my closest friends or are we just acquaintances?
With a close friend, your relationship history makes it more likely that your friend will receive your thoughts with an open mind. She will know that your feedback is coming from a place of love instead of judgment.
So, with her, you can probably lean toward saying what you think.
With an acquaintance, however, it’d be a lot easier for someone who doesn’t know you well to misinterpret what you are saying or assume the worst about your advice. Not having a long-standing history in place with her can work against you even if your intentions are good.
In this case, you have to be more careful about giving advice or sharing what you truly think.
Consider the past.
Ask yourself this:
How has she responded to feedback in the past?
Does she listen to suggestions?
Does she get defensive?
Does she shut down?
The past is the best indicator of the future. If she has been open to hearing your perspective in the past, chances are she’ll be open this time too.
But if she hasn’t responded positively when you’ve shared your thoughts on her problems, it’s likely she’s just looking for an ear and someone who can empathize.
Consider the long-term impact.
The fourth set of questions you should ask yourself is:
Will sharing your opinion or thoughts affect the relationship long-term?
Will she be more or less likely to reach out to me and share in the future if I’m not truthful with her?
If what you want to say has the strong potential to cause a rift in the friend or change it negatively, think twice before speaking your mind.
For example, if she’s complaining about how her boyfriend manipulates her but refuses to do anything about it, would there actually be any benefit to telling her to dump him?
Phrase your feedback in a way that is loving instead of critical.
Finally, if you determine that it’s a good decision to share your thoughts with a friend, make sure to do so in a loving and non-judgmental way.
You may be thinking, “Okay, Darcie…so what does this look like in real life?”
It can be a fine line to walk, and it can take some time to figure out how to phrase your thoughts in a way that balances both your desire to support your friend and express your opinion.
Start by validating your friend’s feelings about the situation and trying to understanding what she’s experiencing. This should always come first.
Then, when you tell her what you think, use language like:
“It may help to consider…”
“I get what you’re saying when you say X, and I also think about X.”
“I don’t know if this fits for you, but I thought of…”
“This is just an idea…I was thinking…”
Finally, acknowledge that your perspective isn’t necessarily the best or the only view of the situation – it’s only your thoughts.
Friendships can be very rewarding, but at times can also be tricky to navigate. You may not always say the right thing, and that’s okay. You’re imperfect, just like the rest of us.
That’s the beauty of genuine friendships though; you can work through conflict, practice self-compassion and forgiveness, and come out the other side stronger for it.
How have you handled this dilemma? What advice do you have for others to navigate this tricky situation? Leave your comments below.