How to tell a friend...She needs to stop drinkingWe all know this girl. She’s the life and soul of the party until she breaks her third glass, has an argument with the doorman and can’t stand up without your help. Whether there’s a serious drinking issue or she just needs to slow down, tackling her when she’s on her fifth glass of wine isn’t going to work. “Never confront a problem drinker when they’re drunk,” advises Dr Vanda Rounsefell, former chairperson of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Saying, ‘I think you should stop,’ can just spur them on.”
Proceed with caution: A particularly embarrassing morning-after is the best time for your chat, ideally when she’s feeling remorseful and sorry for herself. “Give candid feedback about her behaviour, but don’t criticise,” suggests Dr Rounsefell. “Say something like, ‘I really love you as a friend and I’ve had to work myself up to say this – I’m worried you might be losing control.’” Also offer solutions, such as going on a health kick or talking things over with a GP if she needs serious help.
To leave her partnerTelling a friend to leave an abusive man who’s bleeding dry her bank account and self-esteem is never going to be easy, and saying what a loser you think he is won’t help. “She’ll be too embarrassed to speak to you in future,” points out professor of social work at the University of Western Australia, Donna Chung. She adds that knowing everyone disapproves of her dysfunctional union can actually make your mate less likely to change. “She’ll become more tightly controlled and isolated as she and her partner get caught up in pseudo-romantic ideas, like, ‘The world’s against us. We’ve only got each other,’” says Professor Chung.
Proceed with caution: Instead of telling her how she should feel – “You must hate it when he does that” – use “I” statements, which are much harder to argue with. For example, try, “I’m worried about the way he speaks to you in public. I can see it upsets you.” Employ a calm and caring tone of voice and use specific examples of his bad behaviour. However she reacts, make sure she knows she’s welcome at your place anytime. “One of the hardest things is sticking by a friend when you don’t think they’re making the best decisions,” observes Professor Chung. Sometimes, being supportive is all you can do.
To lose weightIf your friend’s waistline has tipped from curvy to dangerous, you might be tempted to stage an intervention for the sake of her health. Don’t, advises psychologist and nutritionist Selina Byrne: “Women are hyper-aware of their bodies. If you raise this directly, maybe by asking if she really needs that Tim Tam, you’ll come across as condescending and only upset her.”
Proceed with caution: Your friend needs to raise the weight issue herself. At some point she will probably confess that she’s feeling unhappy about her weight and the impact it’s having on her life; that’s your cue. Byrne suggests you casually say: “I’m always going to think you’re gorgeous, but I’ve got a good book on nutrition if you want to read it.” Support her by suggesting you catch up during a walk on the beach instead of over dinner. Most importantly? “Be respectful,” recommends Byrne. “Putting pressure on your friend won’t work; her decision to lose weight has to come from her.”
Quit complainingAccording to psychologist Michael Edwardson, rolling your eyes and sighing loudly when your mate starts banging on – again – about whatever this week’s moan is won’t stop her whingeing. “For her, the complaint is real,” notes Edwardson. “If they feel like you’re trivialising their experience, it could damage your friendship.”
Proceed with caution: People complain when they feel some injustice has been done. Making your friend feel heard can help. “Acknowledge the unfairness of the situation by simply saying, ‘Yeah, that must be tough,’ but don’t get trapped into brain-storming endless solutions,” advises Edwardson. The key is not to get caught in the spin cycle of negativity. Get off the topic by using a light tone of voice to say, “I can see this is stressing you out – let’s talk about something else.”
Five ways to communicate betterWatch your body language
Looking into a person’s eyes when they speak makes you seem trustworthy, while keeping your shoulders back and chest open gives you an air of confidence.Don’t interrupt
Cutting people off mid-sentence is an arrogant tactic, especially while they’re talking about something sensitive. Respectfully listen to their point of view before stating your own.Adapt your language to your audience
If you use a lot of business jargon at work, don’t expect your friends to understand it. Adjust your vocabulary to avoid coming across as condescending.Paraphrase
Repeat what someone’s said back to them in your own words. This will help you understand exactly what they’re talking about and bring greater clarity to the conversation.Don’t fidget
People who move their limbs around a lot are seen to have less authority. Try not to get too animated in conversations where you want to be taken seriously.