1. Encourage them to talk; ask them what’s on their mind. If you think your friend’s depressed or has something on their mind then ask if you can help or if something’s bothering them. And unless you get the feeling that they don’t want to talk, be persistent and keep asking in a gentle, caring way. This communicates the message that you genuinely care.
2. Give your full attention and listen carefully. If they’re brave enough to share what is on their mind, then give them the respect of listening carefully without interrupting or offering them advice. Pay attention, focus on them, and try to understand the way they see their problems and how that makes them feel. The only time you should speak is to clarify a point or to ask open questions that will help them share some more.
3. Unless specifically requested, don’t offer them advice. Once you’ve got the general gist of what is happening with your friend, resist the temptation to offer them advice. This is often very hard as we usually want to help, but most people resent it as they just want to be heard.
4. Remember it’s all about them… it’s not about you. Often people want to somehow turn the conversation round to talking about them and their own experiences. This is so annoying; it’s the worst thing you could do.
5. Be sensitive, respectful and non-judgmental. Don’t react or seem shocked when they tell you something bad (like saying, “OMG – I can’t believe you did that!”). Be tactful if you feel you must share something tough, as you honestly believe it would help to hear the truth. You don’t have to destroy them in your efforts to get real.
6. Nothing changes if we don’t do anything. Although it’s often helpful to unburden yourself, if you just dump on others then nothing much will change. Thus, it’s important to encourage them to take some active steps. Don’t only be a crutch or a short term dumping ground.