Friendships aren’t always peaches and cream. Long-lasting, enduring friendships may span dozens of years and occasional conflicts. It’s one thing to have a difference of opinion with a friend. It’s another to believe that your pal is wrong. A good friend won’t let a friend get hurt without trying to prevent it. Here are some tips for confronting your buddy who you believe is headed in the wrong direction.
- Wait for the right time. Don’t blurt out your concern in front of other people. Take your friend aside when there is nothing pressing on his or her schedule. You may even want to arrange a specific time that may help to prevent interruptions or distractions.
- Choose the best place. Avoid having the confrontation at either of your homes. A residence is viewed as one’s “turf,” and facing conflict at someone’s house may result in expulsion. Instead, plan your meeting at a neutral place, such as a park, coffee house (with background noise so you won’t be overheard), or in the parking lot inside your car. It may be a good idea for the two of you to drive separately so in case bad feelings ensue, you both have an escape route. That way you won’t have to endure stony silences or heated words while returning home.
- Use a positive approach. Calm yourself with the view that you are trying to help your friend, not condemn him. Write out and rehearse your words beforehand, carefully choosing terms that will not offend or raise red flags.
“John, does your drinking ever interfere with your job or relationships?”
Asking questions may lead your friend to evaluate his or her behavior without your pointing it out. Although anything you say may put your friend on the defensive, try to choose specific but generalized words and concepts to introduce the idea without coming off as judgmental.
- Promote interaction. Don’t do all the talking. Nor should you simply listen while your friend makes excuses. Instead, ask a few questions and listen patiently to the answers. Explore these further, gently getting your friend to consider the consequences of certain behaviors. Offer to become an accountability partner, sharing one of your weaknesses after your friend has explored his. Suggest that the two of you check in with each other every week or two to see how the other is doing. Brainstorm ways of addressing both of your problems.
- Instigate follow-up. If your friend gets angry and pulls back from the friendship, give him time to nurse wounded feelings. But then get back in touch to show that your commitment to the friendship is ongoing. Before too long, broach the problem behavior again in careful terms. It may be that your friend will decide to end the relationship, but that is his choice. All you can do is serve as the mirror that reflects choices and consequences.
If the behavior is problematic, illegal, or immoral, you may need to get help. Talk to a trustworthy family member or mutual friend who may be willing to participate in the next confrontation. Or you may want to contact a counselor for advice. Being a friend is a lot like being a family member. To have a healthy, lasting relationship you’ll need to invest time, patience, and emotion. But most of us agree that the end result is worth it. And who knows? Your intervention may end up saving someone’s life or dignity.