friendship

'I need to tell my friend her boyfriend will never marry her. HELP!'

I listen to her. And I know she is excited and happy. That she definitely thinks she is making the right decision.

I hope, at least, there is a small voice in the back of her head filled with doubt. A voice that she’s just ignoring. Doing her best to squash it with all the “won’t it be amazing”, “it’s going to be so good”, “this is the right thing to do” empty phrases.

She thinks moving overseas, going on an adventure, revisiting their backpacking roots, will solve all her problems with her partner. That, someone who has refused to commit to her for seven years, suddenly will with the change of hemisphere. That this someone who cannot, or will not, give her what she wants will change his priorities, his whole mindset, during an overseas adventure. And that travelling together is going to close all their differences. Make him a different person.

It will not. I can see that. I have been able to see that for years.

I want to scream at her. To shake her. To make her see what is really going on.

But, my suggestions and questions and gentle reminders of all the times he’s failed her in the past fall on closed ears. She will not listen.

It’s the same anguish that has been felt by girlfriends for eternity. You know they are making a mistake. You can see what’s going to happen. It’s predictable. If it happens on repeat, it gets boring.

So when you know a friend is making a mistake, how do you tell them?

Friends in the office have been in the same situation and this is their softly softly, or not-so softly softly approach.

I say things straight up. “I’m saying this because I love you and you know I don’t f**k around.”

I suggested they see a professional.

I feel like people only learn things the hard way, so assuming they’re not hurting anyone else/being hurt, I just remind them on the regular that I’m here if they need anything and always visit with food and cuddles.

I feel like being physically around is really important when someone is making questionable life choices.

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When it involves being truthful about a friend’s kid it’s the hardest thing in the world.

In searching for advice to include in this article I looked to Forbes. Stay with me. I asked myself, who are the people that are great at telling people things they don’t want to hear, day-in day-out? Answer: people managers, business people, people making very important decisions sitting behind very shiny desks.

Here’re some of the key take-away messages from executive coach and management consultant Steven Berglas. He’s an expert in telling people they’re wrong (nicely).

I’ve reinterpreted his advice, translating it into how to tell a friend she is making a huge, terrifyingly huge, mistake.

Don’t sugarcoat things. It won’t get you anywhere and it will likely just annoy her. This is not the conversation to be kind and loving and gentle – she already knows you’re all those things. This is the conversation to be direct and a little bit tough. It will get her attention, and leave no room for misunderstanding. As Berglas said: “Ambiguity is your enemy when you’re telling someone they’re wrong.”

Don’t try to qualify what you’re saying. With phrases like “don’t take this the wrong way” or unloading positive messages before letting your real feelings show. “At best you’ll come off as disingenuous; at worst, a jerk,” Berglas said.

Focus on behaviour, not character. Don’t make the problem about her. Maybe she’s with that person because she is needy or insecure. Maybe her children are little terrors because she’s fearful and a push over. But her personality is not the issue here. Talk to her about things she’s done, behaviours you’ve seen, don’t make it the way she is. It’s a small distinction but can make a huge difference.

Help her through the solution. Don’t drop your bombshell and disappear. Realise that it might take more than one conversation. Prepare yourself for her reaction – that might be anger, or hurt – don’t get defensive. Stay quiet let her talk.

Worst case scenario, she continues on the path she is already on. But at least you’ve done your job as a friend. You can watch on in peace after that. And one day, she will remember it.