Help an Upset Friend to a Better State

Distressed Girl Holding Her Head

“Things will get worse before they get better. But when they do, remember who put you down and who helped you up.”

Have you tried to help a very sad friend ? Or a very upset friend? Did you try to give good advice? Or cheer her up ? And then wondered why she became so irritated at you, who just wanted her best?

If she is just a little sad or upset, you probably only have to talk to her in a happy or calming voice.

You have surely noticed that, if this is a serious case, and your friend is extremely sad or upset, that will not help. Instead she becomes irritated at you, poor fellow, who just wanted to help her.

You can help your friend caught in a bad state. You just have to know how to lead her out of it, into a different state.

Betting On a Dog

I will begin by telling a narrative.

A man and his wife were walking their dog. They were discussing who could command the dog best. The man claimed the dog was most eager to obey him, and his wife claimed it would obey her better.

The man said it was no use to argue. It was better to prove it. He suggested that the person who could have the dog come to him or her fastest from a distance of 25 yards would win. The loser would buy a delicious dinner at a fancy restaurant. His wife agreed to the bet.

Black Labrador Puppy DogThe man had the dog sit down, and then walked away 25 yards. He turned around and loudly shouted “Come!” to the dog. It remained sitting.

He became a little irritated. He grabbed a piece of chocolate from his pocket, hoping to make the dog interested. The dog still didn’t move.

The man now became very irritated, and walked angrily towards the dog. To this approach the dog flinched, and hadn’t the wife stood next to it and got hold of it, it would have run away.

The wife had the dog sit down again. She sat down on the ground next to it, and talked kindly and stroked it, to make it relax. She scratched its ears, and it liked it.

Then she walked away 25 yards. When she turned around, she discovered the dog had voluntarily followed her.

The wife won the bet.

What can we learn from this narrative?

In the same way as the woman did, you can help a friend caught in a sad or upset state. First make contact, and then gradually lead her to a different state.

First Make Contact

If you suggest her to immediately change her state, it will not work. “Come on. Calm down.” It does not work, she will only get irritated at you.

The distance between her present state and what you suggest is too big. She will choose to remain upset.

In order for you to help her, you have to create rapport, to make contact. That will make her relax and trust you.

You create rapport by letting yourself enter her state and show empathy, so she feels that you understand her, just like the woman created rapport with the dog.

After that you can gradually, one step at a time, lead her to a better state.

If she is angry and upset, ask her why. Listen to her arguments, without questioning them. She needs your understanding.

Put yourself in her place, and feel how angry you would have been if it had happened to you. That will make you enter her state. After that agree with her, so the feels that her angry state is justified.

“I was in town shopping. When I came back there was a parking fine on my windscreen. 120 euros! I had only exceeded the parking limit by 5 minutes. Bloody hell! It makes me so pissed.”

The last thing she wants to hear now is you telling her it was her own fault, and that she should calm down. She is too upset to listen to it. You will only question her right to feel angry, and make her even more irritated.

Instead you need to confirm that her emotions are justified.

Enter her state and how she feels. Confirm her outrage and show sympathy. Begin by repeating what she said by rephrasing it. That will show that you are listening and have understood her. Match her state by speaking in an upset voice.

(Upset voice) “So you got fined in town? 120 euros! That is outrageous!”

“Yes, it is. It makes me so upset. They must have something better to do than fining me.”

Now she knows you are listening to and agree with her.

Then Calm Her Down

Keep talking, and gradually make your voice calmer. Since you have rapport she will follow you and calm down too.

(Somewhat calmer voice) “I also find these parking attendants irritating. Every time I see one I feel like a criminal. They ought to pursue real parking offenders, who never pay their parking fines.”

Now gradually change to more pleasant topics, and you will see her calm down completely.

(Calm voice) “By the way, do you have the parking fine with you? It would be fun to see it.”

She will now be much calmer than before.

Help a Sad Friend

If your friend is sad you do the same thing. Sympathise to her being sad. Show that you understand why she is sad. After that you can gradually make her happier by changing to merrier topics.

The real reward comes if you succeed to make her laugh!

Help Her Find Solutions

If you want, you can help her find good solutions. Telling her what to do directly seldom works though. You will be much better off by telling a similar narrative about another person.

This works because you are talking about someone else, and this has, at least in her logical mind, nothing to do with her own situation. You are not telling her what to do. Instead you leave it up to her.

You might know someone who has been in the same situation, or have experienced it yourself. Tell her about it. Tell her what happened.

It is important that you neither suggest nor expect her to do the same. It is entirely up to her. Thus it is her own choice whether she wants to do it or not. We all like to have the option to decide ourselves.

“A good friend of mine experienced the same. He really didn’t think he should pay. At first he was very irritated, but in the end he calmed down and paid, just to settle it. After that he told me his anger just disappeared like it was never there, and he became happy again.”

By telling your friend’s positive outcome, that his anger disappeared and he became happy, you give hope that the problem is solvable. And certainly she wants to become happy.


Create rapport (make good contact). Show sympathy, that you understand.
After that lead her to a better state.

To help her find solutions: Tell what you or a friend did in the same situation, and the outcome of it.

Do you have any tips for helping an upset friend? Please comment below.


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4 Responses to Help an Upset Friend to a Better State

  1. There are No Problems , just SOLUTiONS

  2. Alex says:

    Stefan, hi!

    Glad to see new article from you!

    You are very right when saying that the first step one should take when helping other person is to create rapport.

    Mostly, people don’t put themselves in their upset friends’ place. Then they wonder and even get angry why their friends decline their help!

    A common situation: an upset friends says: “I feel so bad” The friend “supports”: “Oh, don’t whine, that’s not that bad. What are you talking about?!” The funny thing is that it is actually “that bad” for the upset friend.

    When people don’t try to look at the problem through the eyes of an upset person, the support has right the opposite effect. It only pushes your friend away.

    • Thank you for your comment, Alex. You really understand what this is about. We all like to be understood, especially in bad times.
      You have a great blog about how to be sociable. I look forward to read more from you in the future.