The original article was written by Julia Prichett and appeared on the Culture Project
I remember the day a close friend of mine told me she was pregnant. There I was, excited and nervous as I maneuvered around my college orientation. In just a few short weeks, I would be a freshman and living the life.
So, when I received her text letting me know she was pregnant, I was floored. She was the last person in my life I expected to become a mom, especially because she hadn’t dated anyone in years. Hundreds of college students swarmed around the busy student union room while I stood frozen staring at my phone screen wondering how to respond.
Many years later and I feel much more equipped to handle a similar situation. Buying my friend a fancy steak dinner and brainstorming how to rearrange her life to accommodate a baby certainly worked, but here are a few pointers I wish I knew back then.
After your friend has shared with you, communicate how much you appreciate his or her trust in you. You can use statements like “Thank you for sharing with me, Sarah, it means a lot” or “Jake, thanks for trusting me with this”.
How many times have we felt anxious, awkward, or even afraid when we know we have to tell someone something important? By affirming our friend’s choice to share with us, then we are making her feel comfortable to continue divulging information and helping her overcome the initial apprehension she may have had coming into the conversation.
Encourage her to share more information or feelings with you by using an open ended statement such as “Tell me about how you’re feeling”. This should help open the conversation to discussion about her needs, fears, and hopes.
Focus on your friend and what he is sharing with you. This may mean putting away your cell phone, stopping the video games, or whatever other distractions may be around.
Show your friend that you are truly listening by nodding your head periodically and reflecting back what he has said. Example: “Matt, I hear you saying that you’re scared to death about your girlfriend being pregnant” or “You are worried about financially providing for a child right now”.
These statements prove you not only heard what your friend has said, but that you heard it so well you’re able to put it into new words and say it back to him. When we are good listeners, we inspire trust in another and make them feel supported and cared about.
4) Process Your Friends Real Request
Listen carefully in order to decipher what your friend is really asking for. Does she need financial assistance? Does she need somewhere confidential to go? If you listen, you will know what resource to point her toward based on what she actually needs. If all she needs is a friend to lean on, then telling her about a local maternity home won’t address her real need. Listen carefully to her situation so that you can best serve her.
Because you already have an established friendship, you are able to ask harder questions than a stranger would be able to ask your friend. Examples: “How do you see this decision affecting your life in five years?”, “What’s the hardest part of this situation for you?”, “What are a few ways I can help you through this?”
6) Emphasize the Friendship Bond
Remind your friend of the highlights of your friendship. Does she cook for you often? Does he let you eat the food at his place? Does she always listen when you’re having a bad day? Does he drop everything to help you when you’re in a bind?
Tell your friend how much she means to you as a friend. Thank her for always being there for you and promise to be there for her now (when she needs it the most). Tell her you feel lucky to have a special friend like her and that you will be by her side through this whole journey.
Sometimes, just knowing that you have a friend to weather life’s storms with makes all the difference. Maybe your friend already knows she can count on you, but it never hurts to hear it out loud one more time.
7) Follow up with Her
Ask your friend often about how she is feeling and what you can do to help. She will probably want to talk about her situation for months since it is such a huge life transition for her. Besides bringing it up, you can also use statements that tie your original conversation to the new conversation. Example: “Katie, when we first talked you said you felt terrified. How are you feeling now?”
This helps your friend know you listen, you care, you can be counted on and most importantly—that she means the world to you.
This article originally appeared on the Culture Project.