Lemonade From Lemons

WebMD Blog:

When (and How) to Suggest Making ‘Lemonade From Lemons’

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD


When your friend is struggling, you may feel the urge to make their pain go away. It can be tempting to point out what they have done wrong or tell them what they need to do now. In the spirit of friendship, you may make the critical mistake of suggesting they make lemonade from lemons – advice that can sour your relationship.

The problem with offering such seemingly sage advice is that it often reveals a misunderstanding of the problem. For someone who is feeling overwhelmed, this advice can be a bit like suggesting to a drowning person that they should learn how to swim! Way too little, way too late.

Instead, try really connecting with your friend’s distress. Rather than advising from the outside, allow yourself to feel their pain, and then express that empathy. Observe your sincere wish for them to feel better, and then express that compassion.

Also, highlight any positives that they acknowledge. For instance, you might support a friend as she admits she learned an important lesson about her overconfidence. When she notes that she prematurely assumed she was ready for a presentation, leading to an embarrassing failure to answer questions, you might affirm that this lesson will help her do better in the future.

But, again, tread carefully if you have an urge to point out a lesson or some positive your friend has not yet seen – especially if they are feeling overwhelmed. It’s best to offer such perspectives only after your friend seems to have the sense that you are “with” them. And even then, it is generally wise to ask if they want your suggestions – it could be that they already have their own ideas about how to proceed forward and what they really want is support, validation, and compassion.

When you are able to walk alongside someone through their difficulties, you will be appreciated as a true friend. And if they are able to acknowledge some positives or learn some lessons from their painful circumstances, they might also appreciate you making them a delicious glass of fresh-made lemonade.


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