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be more supportive with these 4 science-backed tips

A person holds a child's hand.

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How do you respond when someone shares that they’re struggling? What if you’re going through hard times yourself?

Providing emotional support can feel like walking a tightrope. ๐Ÿ˜ณ As much as you might want to alleviate the other person’s worries, they’re on their own journey — challenging you to balance expressions of support and empathy with positivity โœ… and encouragement. ๐Ÿ’•

Take stock of these science-backed tips to help those close to you navigate their struggles, and maybe shore up your own emotional foundations in the bargain. ๐Ÿ’ช

Listen first.

Whether you’re speaking to an adult or a child, creating a safe listening space is critical for providing support.

Sometimes, this means not saying anything at all. ๐Ÿ˜ถ

“Words aren’t always necessary. More often than not, your physical presence and attentive listening is enough,” psychotherapist Lauren Hurley writes for PBS.

To really be supportive, you should listen ๐Ÿ‘‚ more than you speak, Stanford psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys tells AARP.

“People need to be listened to and feel heard,” he counsels.

Read the person’s emotional cues.

Think back to a time when you felt like you were really connecting to another person. Chances are, the words you shared were only part of the exchange.

Body language ๐Ÿ‘ฅ is a huge part of how we communicate — so if your goal is to offer emotional support, you need to be in a space that allows you to “read” the signals that the other person is giving off.

That means a phone call probably won’t cut it, AARP magazine writes. Instead, aim to meet in person ๐Ÿค or over video. ๐Ÿ“น

Reading body language goes both ways. You can interpret how the other party is really feeling, and they can see and hear that you care. Providing genuine support means making a genuine connection.

Seek to empower.

You can probe deeper into the person’s emotional state by asking thoughtful questions. ๐Ÿง

Reflect their statements back to them — as in “I hear you saying x, is that correct?” — or express a desire to be of assistance with “How can I best support you right now?”

The latter is a strong choice because it puts the ball ๐ŸŽพ in the other person’s court. It encourages them to take an active role in feeling better, as opposed to passively waiting for someone (you) to act on their behalf.

A really strong supportive question, described by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, is “How do you want to feel?” The center uses this question in its socio-emotional training to help groups narrow down the feelings that matter most to them. It empowers the listener to detail what they need ๐Ÿ“ and helps them look forward โžก๏ธ to a better, happier state.

Take your ego out of the equation.

While it can be tempting to relate to the person’s challenges with your own anecdote — or offer a solution to the situation they’re describing — doing so risks shutting down further discussion. ๐Ÿ˜ค

Both of these support strategies turn attention away from the person you’re listening to, executive coach Sarah Noll Wilson says.

“Assuming you know what’s best can minimize the other personโ€™s needs, centers the conversation on you, and can leave them feeling unsupported,” Wilson writes in the Harvard Business Review.

Instead, ask the person ๐Ÿ”ฎ if they’d like you to share what you did in a similar situation. Or just offer words of affirmation. ๐Ÿงธ

“I can see how that would be hard for you,” you can say. “I want to help you work through what you’re feeling.”

Photo by Marina Abrosimova on Unsplash.

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