Friendship advice – 8 ways to be a true friend

Friendship advice – 8 ways to be a true friend

What does it take to be a true friend? Last week, I reflected on the challenges of asking for help. This week, I find myself reflecting on the challenges of giving it.

I have this friend who is simply awesome at lending support. Of course, I’ve given her plenty of opportunities to practice; we’ve known each other for 30 years, and many of those – particularly the early ones– weren’t pretty!

Over the years, I’ve marvelled at her ability to help me figure out what I need to do, without actually telling me what to do. But try as I might to emulate her when helping a friend in need, I just don’t seem to have her grace.

This week, a dear friend of mine has found herself confronted with having to make one of the biggest decisions of her life. I am confident that I have been there for her 100%, but I am not confident that I’ve been the best friend I could be.

As friends go, I’m a fairly opinionated one.

OK. So that was an understatement. I want so badly to be a true friend – to lend an ear and a shoulder, pose questions, listen quietly without judgement – but I can’t seem to disguise my biases, and that’s prompted me to explore this question:

What does it take to be a true friend?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; I’m no psychologist. I have nothing but my personal experiences to go on, but in my 50+ years, I have plenty of those behind me. Looking back on my friendships over the decades, as well as my experience on both the giving and receiving end of support, here are my humble thoughts on how to be a true friend to someone in need.

  1. Listen to your friend actively. Not just to her words but to the silences in between. Give her time to stop and reflect on the emotions that are bubbling to the surface. Sure, she may have put them into words, but that doesn’t mean she’s come to terms with them. Nor does it mean she believes them with conviction. Be gentle. Be soft. Go slow. Give her a chance to add, revise or entirely withdraw something she’s said before responding.

Be a true friend image 3

2. Ask your friend questions. Not solution-oriented questions, like “Why don’t you try doing this or try doing that?”  but ones that might help her clarify her feelings: “How long have you felt this way? How did that make you feel? Do you see a way to make this situation better?

3. Separate your life from your friend’s. Remember, she will have to live with the decision she makes, not you. What you would do if you were in her shoes really doesn’t matter. I write this rather sheepishly because I know that, despite having the best of intentions, I have the ability to bully others into seeing things my way. Heaven forbid you convince a friend to take action that’s right for you but ends up being completely wrong for her.

4. Be humble. Unless you’ve gone through life making no bad decisions (and let’s face it, few of us have), recognize the possibility that your perspective on her situation may be as skewed as the perspectives you’ve previously had on your own.

5. Use restraint. You know how you’re allowed to say mean things about your family but nobody else is? Remember that when supporting your friend. If she’s been mistreated by someone she loves – a spouse, a sibling, a child or even a parent– keep in mind that she loves them, most likely for better or for worst. While expressing disdain for the person that’s wronged her may seem supportive at the time, in the long run, it may create a wedge between you, especially if they resolve their differences.

6. Acknowledge your biases. If you’ve ‘been there’ yourself, you may find yourself inclined to say, “I get it. I’ve been there. And here’s what I think.” But you haven’t. No matter how similar your experiences may have been, they can’t possibly have been the same because you’re two unique individuals. Acknowledge that you’re responding based on your personal experience and encourage your friend to act based on hers.

7. Don’t give unsolicited advice. Unless your friend looks you in the eye and directly asks you what you think she should do, don’t tell her what to do. Give her comfort, validation, respite, because no harm will ever come from being a friend she can lean on.

8. Give unsolicited advice. I know. I just said you shouldn’t give advice but there are exceptions to every rule. If you fear a friend is in serious physical or emotional danger but know her despair runs too deep for her to see it herself, speak up. How will you know you’re at that place? Your concerns for her safety will outweigh your concerns about losing her friendship.

Be a true friend image 2

To be a true friend, you need more than good intentions.

This week has taught me that. While I’ve never been short of the will to be a good friend, I have sometimes been short of the way. More than a simple writing exercise, this post has allowed me to process my shortcomings in this respect.

It’s funny. When I share self-reflections like this with friends, they’ll often tell me not to be so hard on myself. But I truly don’t believe I’m being hard on myself at all. On the contrary, with every self-indulgent but honest look at myself, I find I’m taking one more step towards inner peace. If I happen to inspire you to take one, too, all the better!

Viv for today xo

So, let’s say that despite your best efforts, you let a dear friend down. What are you going to do about? Forgive yourself. That’s what.

Oh, and if you like what you’ve just read, scroll up to the GET MY NEWSLETTER button and subscribe. I’ll deliver all future posts straight to your inbox.

By |2018-01-15T10:46:34+00:00October 1st, 2017|30 Comments


  1. Amanda Elize October 2, 2017 at 9:15 am - Reply

    I love this advice, especially separating yourself from the situation which is hard to do. It’s easy to tell someone what you would do in their shoes but when you stop and think what consequences they might face for making the same decision it’s a whole different ball game.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:33 pm - Reply

      Yep, and if it ends up not working for your friend as it might have worked for you, that’s a lot of responsibility to live with.

  2. Dana October 2, 2017 at 9:57 am - Reply

    You are right on point. This isn’t just how to be a good friend, this is how to be a GREAT friend! Really great post.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      A great distinction, Dana.

  3. Cathy October 2, 2017 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Brilliant post Viv! This is me too – struggling to be truly supportive without wanting to solve all the problems, and struggling to set my judgements aside. That point was driven home last week during a ‘supportive conversation’ with a friend. I’m getting better, no doubt about it, but I’m a long way from doing it right every time. Self-reflection is my best (sometimes most painful) learning tool. Thanks for your honesty!

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      Cathy, were we separated at birth or something? Right back atcha x

  4. Aryn October 2, 2017 at 10:32 am - Reply

    These are some really great tips! It is important to remember to really listen and be a friend.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      Yes, Aryn. They should teach listening skills in school. So important.

  5. Sarah October 2, 2017 at 11:06 am - Reply

    I firmly believe a few best friends is better than a lot of semi friends! It takes a lot of work but is so worth it.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      Agreed. Take a pass on toxic relationships and put your energy where it counts!

  6. Wonderseekersblog October 2, 2017 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Love this post <3

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Aw, thanks <3

  7. Janire October 2, 2017 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    This is beautiful and wonderfully put. I truly hope to be able to put this to good use to ensure my friendships are everlasting.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Sincerest thanks for the kind words, Janire.

  8. Simon Starchevsky October 2, 2017 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Excellent read. Good points for everyone.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Why thank you!

  9. tina October 2, 2017 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    This is so true. I have been in those dilemmas as well and listening to your friend is so important.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      I’m sure most of us have, Tina. I guess one positive thing we can take away is that even if we’re not nailing it perfectly, our friends are looking to us for support, which takes a lot of trust on their part, so we can’t be doing an altogether terrible a job at this friendship business.

  10. Mikayla Tencer October 2, 2017 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Friendship is so valuable and I love all these tips to keeping the relationship the best it can be.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Mikayla. Glad you enjoyed the read.

  11. Katherine Gamble October 3, 2017 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    I love this! So many of us have tons of friends but don’t realize we could potentially be better friends. This has me analyzing some of my relationships. Great post!

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:20 pm - Reply

      I hope your analysis leads to richer friendships, Katherine!

  12. Angie October 3, 2017 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    These are all great tips and all very true. Asking questions is very important. It shows you’re actively listening and that you’re really interested in helping and really care.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 3, 2017 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      So important, Angie. I’m usually too quick with “here’s what I think!” Definitely need to heed my own advice here.

  13. Simone October 4, 2017 at 6:50 am - Reply

    Great post. As we grow older, we learn the value of true friends in our lives. It’s a great post for others to look at themselves and evaluate what kind of friend they are to others.

    • THE WORDY MOM October 4, 2017 at 8:12 am - Reply

      You’re right Simone. I find that the older I get, the fewer friends I have but the richer those friendships are.

  14. Claire Stoten October 16, 2017 at 9:50 am - Reply

    Great advice Viv. I for sure am guilty of offering advice and suggestions of what to do. I know from doing it to my teenage son that it irritates and doesn’t help; but I still keep doing it! I need those suggestions of yours tattooed on my lower arm for easy reach at all times!

    • THE WORDY MOM October 17, 2017 at 9:27 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Claire. Interesting that both of the comments I received make reference to parenting. While on the one hand we say we’re their parents, not their friends, this advice definitely applies to both roles. Let me know if you need a number for a good tattoo parlour : )

  15. Susan Ward October 16, 2017 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    It is so hard to sit by and just listen when you feel the urge to jump in and ‘fix’ it. I suffer from this common ailment you describe so perfectly. Listening without judgement or putting your spin on it is an open-hearted challenge. Truly helping often means not trying to fix it for them at all but providing true support; space, a shoulder, an ear, encouragement and true empathy and love.
    I’ve learned this lesson and witnessed first hand the clear superiority of this approach over any other, evolving my parenting style toward this relentless compassion model as my daughter moves through her often challenging teen years. I also consider myself very fortunate to have such deeply connected and truly supportive friends as you and aspire to be one myself.
    Thank you!

    • THE WORDY MOM October 17, 2017 at 9:26 pm - Reply

      “Relentless compassion” – I love this term. As for aspiring to be a truly supportive friend, you’re doing a stellar job already.

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