A guide to having a friend intervention without sounding like a b*tch
From figuring out what type of friendship you have to using neutral words to discuss awkward subjects, we’ve rounded up the necessary steps to take when having a difficult conversation with a friend
‘You’re being a d*ck’ — something we’ve all wanted to say to a close friend at some point. Instead, we’re more likely to let a friend’s irritable behaviour fester away for fear of provoking an irreparable feud, sparking off a Beaches like sob-fest in the middle of Pret-A-Manger or — worst still — losing them forever.
At the best of times, friends are the perfect weapons in your arsenal to pick you out of a grump, support you during heartbreaks, and order you an Uber home with a Big Mac in hand after a heavy night on the G&Ts.
However, there occasionally comes a time when you notice something is off kilter in a friendship; be it as a result of repeated last-minute dinner cancelations, a flurry of blue-ticked yet ignored WhatsApp messages, or the realisation they’ve hidden a part of their life from you for months.
At this point, it’s time to launch that friend intervention.
“An intervention is needed for those friends with whom we think we’re not quite communicating with another as we would like to,” explains Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist.
Easier said than done, right?
As a result, we though it was about time to learn exactly how to spark a constructive, honest and positive friend intervention. If not for the benefit for our friendships but for our self-esteem and sanity.
We sat down with Blair to find out her top tips on how to engaged in a difficult conversation about your relationship with a friend without losing them forever:
1. Self-reflection is key
“If you think your friend needs to change, this defies the point of a friend intervention all together,” says Blair. “Friendship is mutual affection, trust and respect. You do not change a friend. Technically, when you’re irritated with someone it’s actually your problem.”
We know what you’re thinking: ‘how can their annoying habits be your problem?’ But, it’s often important to consider your contribution to the issues in your friendship. Perhaps you haven’t been listening to them discuss their issues like you used to? Maybe you’ve started to distance yourself from them to avoid an awkward conversation and intensified their annoyance?
Blair continues: “After framing the intervention from the perspective of you having a problem, another question you need to ask is: ‘Am I expecting too much from this friend?’”
“We all have different friends for different reasons. One of the main issues I see when clients visit me for couples’ therapy is that one or both of them is expecting too much from the relationship. To expect everything from someone – be it a friend or partner — is expecting too much.”
2. Qualify what type of friendship you have
Fact: friends serve different purposes. We all have one mate who is great listener but hates to go out partying, and another who is the perfect wing-woman but a flake when it comes to picking up the phone in your hour of need.
As a result, it’s important to analyse what type of relationship you have before sitting down for a heavy discussion on your relationship.
“Before an intervention, question ‘when did I meet this friend, under what conditions, what first attracted me to this friend initially’?” says Blair.”This will help you better understand what their strength and contribution is to your life.”
FRIENDSHIP IS MUTUAL AFFECTION, TRUST AND RESPECT. YOU DO NOT CHANGE A FRIEND.
If, for some reason, you realise that this friend isn’t a positive influence or isn’t a strong companion, it may be time to consider whether it’s a friendship worth saving in the first place.
3. Keep it positive
Despite our best intentions to sit down with a friend and have an honest, open and constructive conversation, sometimes the combination of heightened emotions and shock can result in an outcome neither you or your friend envisioned. *Cue the tears*
That’s why it’s essential to plan a friendship intervention efficiently. Here’s how to go about doing it:
1. Meet in public
Blair advises: “When we meet in public, we’re less likely to become more emotional than rational and say things we regret later. Awareness of other people potentially listening in on the conversation is helpful because it encourages you to keep the conversation logical.”
Basically, a catch-up in a neutral space — coffee shop, restaurant, bar — means you both have to remain as civil as possible (i.e. no drink throwing).
2. Ask questions rather than make statements.
If someone makes a statement about you (‘You’re rude’, ‘You’ve been ignoring me’, ‘You have pushed me out’), it’s incredibly hard to defend. That’s why Blair suggests using questions to address issues without coming across as accusatory or blaming.
“Instead ask ‘can you help me with this?’ or ‘have you noticed…?’ Don’t forget that while you might have an issue with your relationship, you might be unaware that your friend has a different perspective of your relationship. It’s good to find out how they see the friendships. Questions are more searching and equal than statements which they can only defend,” she adds.
3. Give warning
It’s often advised that we should “expect the unexpected”, but this is incredibly difficult to do when you’re blind-sighted by a friend. Before an intervention, you should always signal to a friend that you want to talk about something serious with them relating to your BFF status.
“When you’re asking them to meet, say that you’d like to catch up over a drink/dinner and explain the reason for the meeting is to discuss something you’re troubled about in your friendship,” says Blair. “If you’ve had time to prepare and think things through, why shouldn’t they? Give them respect and allow them to start equally – don’t take them off guard.”
Remember, it’s important in an intervention to be honest and keep things as equal as possible.
4. Watch your language
“Use neutral words and frame the conversation from your point of view,” suggests Blair. “For example, start with phrases like ‘I am troubled by this’ or ‘I feel’, rather putting the blame automatically on your friend.”
YOU MIGHT BE UNAWARE THAT YOUR FRIEND HAS DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP
A statement that starts with ‘I feel’ is far easier for your friend to hear as they wont’ be immediately on the defence.
Blair add: “One rule we use in therapy is the power of silence. When you’re in doubt and are about to have an emotional reaction, wait a minute to compose yourself. So many regrets come from rash emotional outbursts. A deep breath’s worth of time is all you need.”
Blair explains that a deep breath will help engage the cortex – our logical mind which plans, reasons and understands – rather than the amygdala, whose job isn’t to consider logic but to protect and defend. “Give yourself time to apply logic,” says Blair.
5. Time the intervention well
It’s hard to know when to discuss an issue with a friend. Do you immediately tell them your friendship is in need of attention, or wait it out and see if the relationship will mend naturally.
Blair says: “I had a great friend who used to say “if you can’t wait a minute, wait an hour. If you can’t wait an hour, wait a day”. This means that anything we have to do now is known as a compulsive urge – it’s a self-protective reaction without rational – which will almost end in tears. If you feel irritated or annoyed by a friend, the best thing to do is sleep on it. The next day, you’ll be able to approach the situation far more rationally and discuss the issue than in the moment.”
When it comes to planning an intervention, sit down and make a date to prepare for the conversation.
6. Prepare yourself for the consequences
It’s natural to think a friendship intervention may result in tears and the end of a relationship. Unfortunately you can’t predict how your friend will react, but you can prep yourself.
Blair says: “Firstly, look ahead and consider how you will feel if your friend continues to irritate you versus how you’ll feel if they’re no longer a friend. Then you can consider how valuable having a friend intervention is. Weigh up the consequences of the conversation in the long term.”
“If you start to feel upset during the intervention, switch to what is known as ‘pace breathing’, giving you time to remain calm and your friend a chance to talk through how they’re feeling.”
“Breathe in through the nose, hold the breath until you’re feeling slightly uncomfortable and exhale out through the mouth slowly. A few of those breaths while they react will help you formulate an answer you won’t regret, and stay reasonable. This action will also balance the gases in your body, making your neurochemistry settle down so you don’t get an adrenaline rush or an over dosage of cortisol (commonly known as the stress hormone).”
USE NEUTRAL WORDS AND FRAME THE CONVERSATION FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW
7. Don’t pinpoint specific moments
Blair warns us not to launch into pinpointing exact moments when a friend has done wrong or upset us.
“When you’re specific, you inevitably dissolve into scratching out what happened on that event, which isn’t the point of an intervention. We all see things differently — everyone has a different perspective and history to bring to a situation that colours their analysis of a situation.”
“Most often in arguments, people want examples of wrongdoings or moments that caused tension because it’s easier to go after an example than an issue. As a result, focus on general behaviour rather than specifics using phrases such as ‘I’ve noticed recently’ or ‘There has been a tendency…’.”
8. Be assertive yet sympathetic
It’s difficult to strike the balance between being blunt and sensitive in a friendship intervention. Remember, the aim of the discussion to mend and maintain the relationship, not to add the TNT and watch it explode.
IT’S EASIER TO GO AFTER AN EXAMPLE THAN AN ISSUE
“Clear communication and attention to emotional reactions are key components to this type of conversation,” says Blair. “You can apologise if they get upset or angry, but state your intention for the intervention. For example, you could say: ‘I’m sorry if I’ve upset you, but I was trying to tell you how I’m feeling’”. This is an assertive yet sensitive phrase.
“Delivery is important. There’s no right and wrong here, it’s two points of view and compromise.”
9. Give it time
Whether you’re a person who moves on easily, or the type of individual who needs to process a difficult discussion for a few days, it’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently to criticism and emotionally-infused conversations.
Blair says: “Before the intervention, write down some ideas and solutions to the issue, but let your friend come up with some, too. If they also come up with a solution, you can then make a compromise. You don’t have to show them your hand immediately.”
It’s also important to consider that sympathy isn’t good for self-esteem in a friend intervention – it comes from a level of superiority and strength. “Empathy is different- it means you want to understand how your friend feels and means you’re on the same page and a level footing,” says Blair.
“At the end of the discussion, ask your friend how they’d like to move forward and give them a chance to consider everything you’ve discussed.”
“More often than not, you’ll find out things you didn’t know about your friend, such as the way they’ve reacted to certain situations in the past which might have influenced their behaviour or if they’re going through a difficult time.”
As long as you keep in mind the importance of mutual affection, trust and respect, your friendship should be on course to recovery in no time.
From: ELLE UK