My 18 y/o friend is her school’s unofficial guidance counsellor😁

So I asked her for tips on how to be helpful!

But seriously… every time we talk, she tells me a story of another student asking her for help. There are five themes I learned from her stories:

I’ll cut the filler and jump straight to the actionables for each theme 😉

#1 Recognising when to help

Check in with friends every ______ period of time.

When someone is visibly stressed / seems to be hiding things, ask subtle questions:

If they refuse to talk about it, only press if their safety is at stake.

#2 How to comfort well

Acknowledge what the person says and prompt them to keep going. The goal is to let them vent it all out.

Ask them about solutions they’ve tried before suggesting yours.

Tell them it’s okay to be vulnerable. Don’t rationally tell them to ‘get over it.’ Especially if they’re crying, as they may feel ashamed.

Let them know if you relate to the problem — IF it’s not a very serious or unique issue. It can be comforting.

If you’re the reason they’re upset, apologise specifically:

If you don’t know the person well, tell them what you noticed was wrong and that you care. Give them the option to text back later.

Follow-up via text at the end of the day. It shows you care + people may be more comfortable virtually.

#3 How to Listen Well

To actively listen:

If you don’t relate to a problem, just acknowledge that you’re listening. Use the example prompts in #2.

Don’t be rational when they’re emotional. Don’t show judgement if you don’t think their problem is a big deal. That includes body language: not scoffing, laughing, widening your eyes, etc.

If people are too vague / complicated, just tell them you’re confused. “I’m sorry, could you please explain that?”

#4 How to encourage others

Use specific examples when giving compliments. It’s more believable.

Still, they might not respond to compliments. It’s usually okay.

Tell them specific examples of past successes they’ve had. This can help with hopelessness / insecurity.

If they’re making a big deal out of a problem, ASK THEM to break down the problem / take a tiny action to fix it. People believe what they say themselves more.

P.S. People compliment you about things they like to be complimented about. Notice what others compliment you about + compliment them about those things.

#5 How to Build Trust

Make eye contact. And smile :-)

Share personal stories. Ex: about your youth, family, hobbies, etc. And invite them to reciprocate.

Find connections with their past or present lives. Or their future goals.

Show appreciation. Especially about little things.

Tell them your intention is to help them:

Tell them your intention is to be honest. Especially during disagreements.

Still, sometimes people won’t reciprocate trust / vulnerability. It’s easier to get yourself to move on than to get them to change.

Special thanks to Ayleen Farnood to sharing all this wisdom. And for going through the trouble of learning it the hard way and making hundreds of lives brighter in the process :-)

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Madhav Malhotra

Cofounder at The Plastic Shift. Learning how to create a sustainable planet. Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/madhav-malhotra/