When a friend is suffering, we want to help. That assistance comes in many forms but often starts its journey with words. What’s the best way to start? Ask, don’t tell. Nobody likes to be “told” what to do, and it’s no different when a friend is experiencing a difficulty in life.

Marriage and Family Therapist Tony Bordenkircher says the phrase “Here’s what you should do” isn’t helpful because offering unsolicited advice can increase feelings of shame or embarrassment from the suffering person. A caring way to ease into a conversation is to start with, “Would it be helpful for you if I . . .” For example, you could say, “Would it be helpful to you if I brought over a few meals you could put in your freezer?” or, “Would it be helpful to you if I drove you to your chemotherapy treatment?”

So before you tell someone what you are going to do, or what they “should” do, consider using a phrase that inquires and doesn’t demand.

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