The wisdom of friendship: Learn the essentials for giving and receiving

April 11, 2022 - 14 min read

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12 tips to advise your friends

How to receive advice gracefully

Why (and when) it’s important to help your friends

Common friendship problems (and how to fix them)

Are you in a toxic friendship?

The bottom line

Have you ever struggled to give your friends advice? Even if we truly care about them, sometimes we just don’t know what to say. 

For example, if you meet up with a recently unemployed friend, they may ask your advice about what to do next. 

Telling them, “Everything will be okay!” might seem like a logical place to start, but it might not be helpful. After that, you might be coming up blank. You know that you want to be a good friend and help them through this tough time since they would do the same for you. But what should you say?

Giving advice on friendship to friends or receiving it yourself is delicate. Whether it’s about romantic relationships, work drama, or friendship problems, guidance that’s too prescriptive can remove a person’s sense of choice. Similarly, advice that’s too blunt can be taken the wrong way and be downright ineffective.

Offering great advice is an important part of learning how to be a good friend. Here’s some of our best advice to support your closest friends.

 

12 tips to advise your friends

There are many ways to offer advice, but not all are great. Sometimes, although you have good intentions, you don’t need to give advice. Or there’s something you should avoid when giving advice. 

Either way, giving advice is empowering. Here are the dos and don'ts for giving the best friendship advice possible.

The “dos” of giving the best friendship advice

  1. Use active listening. This means spending time trying to understand the problem clearly. Your friend should feel heard. Use active listening skills like nodding, open body language, and asking questions for more information.
  2. Be encouraging. Show your friend that you support them no matter what. Tell them that you believe in them and that even the worst problems are usually temporary. Share that help is available if they need it. Remind them that positivity is still possible — even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
  3. Involve them in your advice. Make suggestions and ask for their feedback. Phrase your advice as questions instead of telling them what to do. For example, “Have you thought about trying this strategy?” This will show that you’re on their team and working toward a solution together.
  4. Debunk generalities. If your friend feels negative, they might fall back on false generalizations: “No one likes me,” “I’ve always been bad at my job,” “No one ever invites me to parties.” Look for exceptions to those rules. You just need one example to show them that things aren’t so bleak.
  5. Challenge their assumptions. Your friend might ruminate on worst-case scenarios. If they do, ask them how likely they are to happen. The likely answer? Chances are pretty slim. This can help them keep a more positive perspective and avoid jumping to conclusions. 
  6. Look for “Option C.” It’s easy to fall into binary thinking when we’re in distress. If your friend is stuck between Options A and B, suggest an alternative they haven’t considered.
  7. Focus on the positives. Try to flip the narrative by reminding them of good things that happened recently, what they’ve learned, or how they can grow from this situation. Talking about something unrelated to this issue might help, too, once you’ve found a solution. 

These tactics are valuable skills for all areas of your life. Working with a BetterUp coach can help you focus on your goals and take your social skills to the next level.

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The “don’ts” of offering advice

  1. Don’t talk “at” them. If you’re too preachy, they’ll likely stop listening. Instead, use active listening and collaborative forms of communication.
  2. Don’t jump to conclusions. If you offer a solution too quickly, it shows that you weren’t listening. Make sure you have the whole story first.
  3. Keep the gossip to yourself. Your close friends are trusting you during a difficult period. They probably told very few people about their situation, if anyone at all. It’s not your place to let other people know about their hard times.
  4. Don’t assume you will fix things. Remember, your job is to make suggestions. That’s it. They’ll continue thinking about this long after you’re done talking, and it’s up to them to make a decision that’s right for them. 
  5. Don’t judge them. They’re trusting you to talk things out and might become emotional. Even the smallest hint of judgement can cause a bad reaction, so avoid calling them “emotional,” “dramatic,” or “sensitive.” This invalidates their feelings and can make them feel worse.

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How to receive advice gracefully

One day, you’ll be the friend in need, and you’ll depend on others for perspectives that will get you through the hard times. Here are some things to keep in mind while on the receiving end:

  1. Don’t think you have all the answers. Yes, you’ve been thinking about this a lot. But you wouldn’t be asking your friend for advice if you were confident in your answers. Put your ego aside and keep an open mind.
  2. Choose the right friend for the job. Everyone has their own strengths and set of expertise. Some friends are better at discussing relationships, while others are better at talking about careers. Ask advice from people who know how to help you.
  3. Try to understand the problem first. If you’re not sure about the root of the problem, it's hard to find a solution. Have as much clarity as possible when approaching someone to ask for advice. That being said, be open to the idea that you might not fully understand the problem until you talk to someone else. Friends are there for talking it through.
  4. Ask follow-up questions. Listen, hear their advice, and ask for more information. Be clear on what they mean and clarify your position if you need to work on the problem together. Advice from friends is a process, not a transaction.
  5. Avoid getting defensive. When we receive advice or our friends are trying to learn more about what happened, it's easy to get defensive. We might feel like they are being critical or we did something wrong. But remember, your friend has your best interest at heart. They're trying to help. That's why you turned to them. Don’t be so quick to bite back.
  6. Use your imagination. Imagine what taking this advice would look like. How would it feel? What could make it feel better? Contemplate it seriously. You might be surprised at how well it fits.
  7. Focus on long-term goals. Thinking about setting goals may be difficult to do, especially if you’re distraught. But remember that your friend has a birds-eye-view on the situation. They might give you the long-term perspective you need.
  8. Ask a group of friends and family members. If you’re comfortable, talk about your situation with more than one person to gain perspectives and make a more thoughtful decision. 

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Why (and when) it’s important to help your friends

Look, we’re all busy. You have a career, family, and other obligations. But so do your friends. At some point, you have to make time to see them. Otherwise, they might not come to you when they need you most or feel like they can count on you. 

True friendships involve stepping up for each other when times are tough. If you have a ride-or-die “bestie” in your life, they deserve to have you in their corner. Here are some signs that your best friend has earned your help:

  • They’re always there when you need them
  • You can depend on them
  • They're good at setting boundaries
  • They’re trustworthy 
  • You can be yourself around them
  • They know how to communicate

Common friendship problems (and how to fix them)

You could be the best communicator in the world, but your friendship will still hit some bumps in the road. Here are some common issues, and how you might be able to fix them.

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1. Broken trust

Your friend might have committed to something but didn’t follow through. This can breed resentment and distrust. To protect the friendship, kindly confront them about it. Here’s what you can say: 

“Hey, you said you would come to my wedding. I’m a little upset you didn’t, but it’s okay. I just wanted to know why. Did I do something wrong?”

2. Unequal support

You might feel that you’re supporting them more than they’re supporting you. The best thing to do here is talk to them about it. For example:

“I love that you trust me and can talk to me. But I sometimes feel you don’t hear my problems too. Can we try balancing things out more?”

3. Your friend bails or disappears

You made plans, set a time, and showed up. But your friend isn’t there and isn’t replying to your texts, and then you see them post about being somewhere else on social media. 

If this doesn’t happen often, you can ask them about it next time you talk. But if it happens too much, you might want to leave the friendship. This kind of behavior is disrespectful to you and your time.

Are you in a toxic friendship?

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Remember, toxic friendships do exist. Consider cutting your friend off if they display these qualities:

  • They only ever talk about themselves
  • They don’t respect boundaries
  • You always feel drained after hanging out with them
  • They bully and belittle you

True friends shouldn't make you feel bad for being who you are. Be aware of your mental health and the impact others close to you might be having. If you find spending time with someone is actively harming your mental health, they aren’t worth having around. It doesn’t matter if you’re childhood friends — you can make new friends who will value you.

If you need advice on letting go of a friendship, reach out to a true friend and use the tips above to listen thoughtfully. 

The bottom line

Now that we’ve given you this advice on friendship, you’re well on your way. There are many things you can do to improve your friend's life. Support them no matter what, offer advice if they ask, and encourage them to be the best version of themselves. They’ve always had your back, so it’s time you had theirs.

Being supportive might not sound like a “skill,” but it can be learned. That’s why BetterUp helps clients improve their active listening, emotional intelligence, and communication skills. Together, we’ll make sure you’re ready to step up for your circle of friends.

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Published April 11, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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