SOMEONE YOU KNOW feels bad and you want
to help. I like that about you. But you probably already know
that sometimes when you try to help, it doesnt help, even
if you have good intentions and try really hard. You need to
know how to make someone feel better. You need to know
specifically what to do that will really help.
When you try to help someone, there are
two things you can do: Take some physical action that helps,
or listen. Seeking to discover how to make someone feel better,
we can quickly narrow it down to those two possibilities.
But for a physical action to really help
someone, you would first have to talk to the person and listen
(so you would know enough about the situation to take the right
actions). Listening would have to be the first step. So really,
in our quest to discover how to make someone feel better, we
can narrow it all the way down to one thing: We need to know
how to listen to someone in a way that really helps them feel
Brant Burleson, a researcher at Purdue
University, after a lifetime of doing listening experiments and
studying the experiments of others, came up with authentic answers
to the question. According to the research, this is how to make
someone feel better:
1. Make it clear right up front that
you really want to help.
Oddly enough, many people miss this and their earnest attempts
to help are interpreted as manipulation or worse. When someone
is in distress, the way they perceive the world is often distorted
and they may misperceive your intentions. So make it plain as
day that you want to help. This is the beginning of how to make
someone feel better.
2. Make it clear the other person is
in control. By saying you want
to help, you can almost immediately get into trouble because
in their misery, they can easily interpret your desire to help
as if youre really saying they are incompetent and cant
handle things on their own. So the second thing you must make
sure you do when listening to someone in distress is let the
other person know you know she is in charge and
you are merely her assistant in this matter, and make
it clear you think of her as a competent, capable person
capable of thinking things through, and capable of handling her
situation. This is a key factor in how to make someone feel better.
Also make sure you are not in any way critical
of the person. Even the mildest criticism can be upsetting when
someone already feels bad. Be very careful you refrain from even
implying any critical judgment.
3. Show intense interest and concern
about her situation the circumstances. Get the person to describe what happened in detail,
but do this in a way that doesnt sound like an interrogation.
Do not try to hurry this process. In fact,
try to slow it down. Try to prevent the person from making
a long story short. You want to know all about the situation
and what led up to it and what happened afterwards, and what
the other person said, or whatever. Get as much detail as possible.
When someone is feeling bad, what really
helps is giving them time to think about what happened and to
think through all the feelings they have about it. If you want
to know how to make someone feel better, thats it in a
nutshell. The reason good listening helps is it gives the person
exactly what they need: The opportunity to think it all through.
4. Try your best to sincerely empathize. While youre listening, you may think to
yourself, How can he be so stupid as to get himself in
this mess? Youll have to find a way to get around
your own judgment and really and truly empathize. Everyone has
his own quirks and hang-ups and sometimes it gets him into trouble.
Accept that about the person. Now that he is in this mess,
try to sincerely understand his feelings and empathize with his
And communicate your understanding carefully
make sure you dont say things like, I know
what you mean or I know how you feel. You may
not. Qualify your statements for accuracy. I think I know
what you mean or I can imagine how you must feel.
It will help you maintain rapport. When you make a statement
the other person thinks is untrue, it can interfere with your
rapport. So make sure when you speak, you are accurate.
5. Make it clear you are available to
listen, no matter what the person says. Sometimes
when listening, youll feel the urge to argue or tell your
own story. Restrain yourself from doing either of these things
when youre trying to make someone feel better. Encourage
her to talk, and keep your own input to yourself, at least until
she asks for your input.
But dont abandon or reject her no
matter what she says or how she says it. Cut her some slack in
her hour of need. Make it clear youre with her and available
to her for whatever she needs.
6. Demonstrate you are on their side,
but not by criticizing anybody else. Burleson found that any kind of criticism you make
even to agree with the person about someone else
doesnt help. But make it obvious that no matter
what, you are with him. You are on his side.
This is how
to make someone feel better. Listen well. Follow the six suggestions
above. No matter what is distressing the person, this way of
listening has the best chance of making her feel better.
more about Brant Burleson and his research on listening.
here to print a page with only the six principles on it.