Change your words. Change your world.

Exactly What to Say to Help a Friend in Need

When was the last time you heard news about a friend in need? Regardless of the cause, whether an unexpected diagnosis, difficult divorce, crippling accident, financial hit, or devastating loss, I would guess you had the same internal response, “I wish there was something I could do.”

That begs the question, what did you do? 

Too often, we let our discomfort with knowing exactly what to say stand in the way of offering love, sympathy, or help. Do any of these sound familiar?

“I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so I didn’t say anything at all.”

“I wish I knew how to help.”

“I didn’t want to bring it up and upset them.”

Notice the focus of these statements — they are primarily centered on the person making the comment, the “I”, rather than on the person for whom care is intended.  When our thoughts are on our own struggles or discomforts in addressing the issue, we neglect the goal of providing comfort or help for the person who is actually in need. 

Would it be helpful if I gave you a few tips for your communications with friends in NEED? 

Act Now

Communicating happens in many ways, and as we all know, actions speak louder than words. Years ago, when my husband called our best friends to inform them I had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, Debbie immediately picked up the phone and called me. We cried together and she said, “I wish I were there to give you a big hug!” 

Then, 50 miles and an hour later, Debbie showed up at my door and we cashed in on that hug. She told me she didn’t know what to do to help, but she wanted me to know I was loved. I don’t remember what goodies were in the basket she brought, or the precise words she said, but the fact that she just came will stay with me forever.

Show Empathy

Show empathy by putting the feelings of your first friend. You can do this by asking yourself, “How would I feel if…” and imagine yourself in their position. Feel the emotions they could be experiencing, and then reach out with support.

Simple Swaps

Use Simple Swaps for more effective and compassionate communications.

Don’t pretend to know what someone else is going through or how they feel.

"I know exactly how you feel. When my dog died, it was like I lost a member of my family."

Swap for: 

"I cannot imagine the trauma you must be feeling at the loss of your little brother."

Regardless of what you believe, do not downplay their experiences, write them off, or assume you know how they feel.

"So sorry you were in such a terrible accident, but at least you are alive!"


"Yikes, the accident sounds awful. So sorry you are in pain and out of commission. I promise to be your crutches when we are together. Love you, man."

"It must have been his time." "God needed her more in heaven."

Swap for:

"I hope your mind can be filled with a million memories of your sweet auntie."

When you really want to offer help, let them know how you are willing to help. 

"Call me if you need anything."

Swap for: 

"Would it be more helpful if I brought you dinner or got you a meal subscription service?"

By offering a few specific choices, you let the person know you are serious about helping, and you are indicating how you feel you can be helpful. They will never call you on their own, especially if they have no idea what you would actually be willing to help with. If you are serious, you can demonstrate it by using the right words.

When it comes to offering your sympathy, be specific.

"My sympathies at the loss of your mother."    

Swap for:

"Your mom always made me feel welcome in your home. The way she asked me about sports and classes showed me that she cared about me. She had a knack for making everyone feel like her favorite. I pray that you have wonderful memories in your mind and peace in your heart at her passing."

"So sorry to hear about your dad."

Swap for:

"Reaching out to let you know that I heard about your dad. I think I am still in shock, and I can't imagine how you are feeling. I don't know what to say, I just want you to know that I love you."

Keep the personality of your relationship intact in your communications. If you are always teasing and joking, don’t turn suddenly serious, or vice versa.

"Praying for you."

Swap for:

"I didn't know your sister, but if she put up with you, she must have been a saint. I am sure she will be missed.  I'll be praying that everything goes well as your family gets together to remember and honor her."

Change Your Words, Change Your World.

With a little practice, simple swaps, and specificity, your changed words can change the world for your friends in need.

Jodi Orgill Brown

Jodi Orgill Brown​

Creating communities in the workplace has never been more important. Jodi is the master of helping teams to find the glue that sticks them together and the fuel that empowers them to achieve more through creating an anti-fragile outlook for all.

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