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8 Ways to Really Help a Friend in Need

8 Ways to Really Help a Friend in Need

When a friend is going through a difficult time, it’s natural to want to help, but it’s not always easy to know how. Think about occasions where you’ve been in need yourself – what did your friends do? What did you find the most helpful? Some friends may have kept their distance and perhaps you felt hurt by that, but it could be that they really didn’t know what to say or do, or they simply assumed you would ask if you needed anything. It can be hard whichever side you’re on, whether you’re the one needing help, or the one offering it.

Here are eight ways that you can really help a friend in need.

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1. Be Specific in Your Offers of Help

Vague comments like “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” are not likely to be taken up. Most people find it hard to ask for help, so telling them to let you know if they need anything is putting the onus back on them to ask. Often when people are going through difficult times, even everyday tasks can feel too much. So aside from offering them a shoulder to cry on, think about what practical help you can offer, and suggest specific things. For example “I’m going to the supermarket now, would you like to give me your list and I can pick up some things for you while I’m there?” Specific offers like that are more likely to be taken up.

2. Don’t Force Your Help on Them

Offer your help, but if they decline, then accept that. If you keep insisting you might make them feel worse. It may be that they have never really needed help before, or have been brought up to believe that they should be able to manage, no matter what. Or maybe they genuinely don’t want or need your help. That doesn’t mean you don’t offer to help again, it’s simply about being sensitive, and respecting what they say about their needs at the time.

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3. Only Offer Help That You Are Genuinely Able to Give

Think carefully about what help you offer. In a hasty moment when your friend is very upset, it’s normal to want to make everything alright for them, but reflect a little about the realities of what you’re offering before you open your mouth. Not following through on what you’ve offered, or doing something grudgingly, is worse than not offering at all; your friend will feel let down, and you will feel wretched.

4. Don’t Assume You Know What’s Best For Them

However they are struggling, your friend that is suffering is still an adult and needs to make their own decisions. When people are going through difficult times, they may feel that much of what is happening to them is out of their control. If you attempt to take over everything, you’re adding to their loss of control. What might have been the best thing for you when you were going through a difficult time isn’t necessarily what is best for them. Be guided by them, if they want you to take charge of things, or make decisions for them, then fine, but that’s their choice not yours. The exception to this is if you are concerned that they may harm themselves, or others, in which case you will probably need to seek appropriate help for them, even if they don’t want it.

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5. Remember That Small Thoughtful Gestures Go a Long Way

You may be limited in what you can do to help because of your own commitments, or for financial or geographical reasons, but don’t underestimate the value of small gestures. A card in the mail to let them know that you’re thinking of them can mean a lot, or a voicemail message to remind them you’re at the end of the phone if they want to talk is great for the friend to have. Perhaps you could do a bit of research on organizations or support groups that may be able to help, and email those details to your friend. Whatever your own situation, there will be small thoughtful things you can do to help which will probably be of greater value than you imagine.

6. Be Someone They Can Trust

Avoid sharing details of their situation with other friends unless they have given you permission. Your intentions might be good in talking it through with others, but your friend may have been telling you things in confidence, and will then feel you have broken their trust. They don’t need the added burden of feeling hurt and let down by you on top of whatever else they are going through.

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7. Listen More Than Talk

If you’re usually more of a talker than a listener, now is the time to hold back. Avoid repeatedly giving your opinion on their situation unless they ask for it. Be guided by them, they may want to just offload to a sympathetic ear, or they may want you to offer suggestions. It’s best if you can keep your own emotions under control, you may feel upset or angry about what your friend is having to deal with, but you will be more help to them if you can remain calm as you listen. This will help them feel that you are dependable and a rock for them.

8. Help Them to See a Brighter Future

Depending on their situation, your friend may be finding it hard to imagine a time where they won’t feel like they currently do. Gently help them to look beyond that by giving them things to look forward to, simple things like an evening out. When you feel they’re ready, begin to talk positively with them about plans for the future. Again, be guided by your friend here, if they seem open to what you’re saying, then go with it, if they shut down then back off and try again another time. The most important thing is for them to know that you are there for them, now, and as they move forward into the future.

Featured photo credit: Talk/Matus Laslofi via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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