I think it’s fair to assume that most people would like to be able to help others, the problem is that most of us often don’t know what to do. In the case of physical or material help our potential roles are usually fairly obvious, someone needs help carrying a heavy load, someone needs some financial assistance, etc. It’s in the area of emotional support that things are a little less clearly defined.
When someone comes to us with a personal problem, we need to decide what sort of help to give. When someone tells us about a relationship problem, loss of a job, a death in the family or a similar situation that’s causing emotional distress, our usual response is to give advice. It’s important to know if the person is actually looking for advice or, as is often the case, just wants someone to talk to.
I’ve found that the best approach is that if someone doesn’t ask for our opinion or advice, we don’t give it. Often the last thing a person wants to hear is, “You should have done this” or “You should do that”. Someone once told me about a bumper sticker he had seen which said, ‘Don’t should on me!’
Many times, the best help we can give is just be there and let the person share his or her experience with us. Learn to be a listener. Of course, if the person is planning to do something we know is completely wrong or potentially destructive, we should intervene. Otherwise, let the other person know that we are there for them and understand what they are going through and will help in any way we can. Wait for them to ask before automatically giving advice.