When we are stressed, in trouble, experiencing loss, or just feeling bad, we turn to our social networks – friends and family -- for support and comfort. These social support networks often help us to feel better or to get through tough times – but not always! When do our social support networks fail us, and what can we do about it? 

Negativity in Social Support. This occurs when someone in your social network is trying to help or be sympathetic, but engages in behavior that makes things worse. There are several forms this can take. One version is the “I-told-you-so” person, who constantly reminds you that he or she warned you about something you did beforehand, as in “I told you not to date those kind of guys,” or “I knew you were going to screw up again.”

Another form is the well-intentioned person who intervenes in a conflict situation and only makes things worse, such as a friend who tells off your spouse or sibling in a poor attempt to defend and support you.

Imbalance in Social Support Relationships. Support relationships are reciprocal. There needs to be both give and take. We all know people who are “takers” – always turning to others for support, but never willing or able to provide support for others. These imbalanced relationships can drain your own ability to be supportive, and provide little in return.

Think of social support relationships as a bank account, you don’t want to “withdraw” more support from others than you can give, and vice versa.

Inability to Offer the Correct Type of Support. Our research showed a relationship between possession of social/communication skills and social support received from others and given to others. What this means is that both parties are involved in creating supportive relationships, and that ability to communicate, including ability to express feelings, “reading” others’ emotional expressions, listening effectively, managing emotions, and being socially tactful are critical in creating positive and effective social support.

How do we create good social support relationships?

Divide your social network into those who are truly (positively) supportive, and those who are unable to provide adequate support. Make sure to nurture the relationships with the positive others.

Remember to reciprocate. Do an assessment of the “give and take” balance in each of your social support relationships. Eliminate those that are way out of balance.

Listen effectively and be tactful. Improving the clarity and quality of communication helps in building good social support relationships.


Riggio, R.E., & Zimmerman, J.A. (1991). Social skills and interpersonal relationships: Influences on social support and support seeking. In W.H. Jones & D. Perlman (Eds.), Advances in personal relationships. (Vol. 2), (pp. 133-155). London: Jessica Kingsley Press.

Follow me on Twitter:


You are reading

Cutting-Edge Leadership

That One Thing That Will Make You a Better Leader

Work on this competency and your effectiveness will soar.

The 10 Habits of Highly Toxic Managers

How to identify a toxic manager in your life

Are You a Secret Scammer?

Have you ever used the banana trick?