A friend approaches you with an issue. What do you do?  

Our first impulse is usually to offer advice – human beings are natural problem solvers. Remember the last time someone gave you advice or tried to solve your problem? Did you like it or did you resent it? Did you want advice or did you want someone to help you sort it out?

People like to feel helpful and they also like to feel good when things are resolved. When you offer advice right out of the gate, it’s more about you being able to check a box that says, “done”. 

You are an observer to your friend’s situation. Whatever they have come to you about is not your problem. Yet as a human, our minds are drawn to problems and issues with a desire for resolution.  There is some human biology involved.  

Do you remember attending a really great movie or play? Playwrights and film makers understand that they must create stress to engage you. Theater magic draws you in until you feel as though the situation you are observing or listening to is happening to you. Like when watching a play or movie, you are going to feel stress (cortisol) when a real-life problem presents itself – whether it’s your problem or that of another person. 

The stress is going to create an impetus to take action or try to resolve the situation. This is where you consciously choose who owns the problem. 

Your friend (or colleague, or partner) has not asked you to be their coach. If you know anything about coaching, there is a formal request and onboarding process replete with ground rules. 

Yet here you are. 

This is a tricky place. You feel good when the problem is resolved. Can you see how this leads to the desire to find or provide a quick answer? It’s easy to say, ‘Do this’, and then wipe your hands of the issue and feel self-satisfied. The other person is still left with an issue that they would like support around. 

People are going to do what they want to do, not what you want them to do. 

How about a few tips that might make this situation work for both of you? 

Step OneAsk, “do you need to get it off your chest or would you like to brainstorm for a solution?”. 

Step TwoListen with curiosity and with the assurance that your friend will figure this out.  Don’t hear just to respond. You will deepen your understanding, as well as their own, if you listen to understand. This means suspending all your opinions or assumptions. 

Step Three:  Ask the right question. If brainstorming, ask open-ended questions that allow for self-discovery. Questions like, “How do you feel about it?”, “Who was impacted?”, “What else happened?” will help the other person figure out their best option. If venting, ask one question:  “What do you want to do about it?” 

Step Four:  If you have something to offer, ask permission to share it. Avoid the impulse to take over the conversation. When other people are sharing their issues, people can be triggered into remembering their own problems. Share simply and with relevance to what the other person is experiencing. 

Step Five:  End the conversation with encouragement, thank them for including you in their process and, if so inspired, ask if there is anything else you can do to support them. 

A rule of coaching is that the client almost always has their own answer and is seeking a sounding board or someone to help them be accountable. When you help another person listen to their own voice and sort their own options, you are being of high service.  When you become the answer person, you are disrespecting the other person.  

Follow the five steps and hold a space for the other person to figure it out. That’s friendship! 


This is all about becoming more emotionally intelligent. Why not take the quiz here and find out more about your EQ?