When someone comes to you for support, are they looking for advice or do they just need you to listen and be empathetic? If the time is right to share your thoughts, there are a few things that might be worth considering.  

Do share your experience. Being kind and considerate means looking beyond yourself and making the time and effort to think about how others might be feeling and to be aware and notice how your behaviour can make a positive impact. You make a point of looking for opportunities when you could help someone out. Sometimes, that can mean sharing your own experience.

Sharing your experiences and feelings with someone creates mutual understanding and empathy. The best support groups do this. Rather than being pity fests, where everyone wallows in their shared difficulties, a good support group is more constructive; it helps people to feel less alone, provides ideas and information, enabling the other person to identify their options, make a decision, move forward and take control.

If you’ve had a similar experience or know of someone else who has, just say: ‘That’s happened to me/happened to my friend. Let me know if you think it would be helpful for you to hear about it.’ The other person’s thoughts and feelings about their situation might be different to yours, but by sharing your own experience, they might pick up some insights rather than feeling they’d been told what to do.

Do be positive. Think back to the last time you gave advice to someone. Did you express concern and understanding, or were you frustrated, angry or worried about their situation? When you feel like this, you may think you are giving good advice but you’re probably coming across as negative or critical. You’re certainly not coming across with kindness. Rather than starting your advice with, ‘Why didn’t you … ?’ or ‘You should have… ’, accept what’s done is done, and focus on what they can do next. Ask: ‘Do you want some ideas to improve the situation?’ Or ‘Can I suggest something?’ Or ‘Can I give you my opinion/advice?’ And say something like ‘How about … ?’ or ‘It might help to consider … ’.

Do know when to let go. Even if the other person asks for your advice, they won’t necessarily take it. You can never be sure that your advice is really right for them.

Don’t be surprised if a person rejects your good advice and decides to follow their own course of action.

Do keep your advice short and to the point. Even if there appears to be a right solution, think what possible courses of action there might be and, together with the other person, consider the pros and cons of each. Help them to come to their own conclusions and decisions.

Whenever you’ve talked for a few minutes, bring it back to them. ‘What are your thoughts about that?’

Do know that there are no magic words that will make everything okay. The best you can do is listen, follow your heart, be open to emotions, validate feelings and support them in the ways you believe are best.

This is an extract from Kindness: Change Your Life and Make the World a Kinder Place by Gill Hasson