How to Confront a Friend Who Really Needs It
It may be awkward, but sometimes it has to be done.
Posted Aug 21, 2015
If you hang out with the same group of friends on a regular basis, there may be that one member of the crowd who seems to be consistently a little more annoying or more needy, or more something than everyone else. Do you have a friend who always has to tell the same bad jokes, regardless of how many times the group has “forgotten” to laugh? Or a friend whose stories always have to top the one that was just told by someone else? How about the pal who always has a little too much to drink to make it home safely on their own? Or who honestly believes the karaoke stage is home to their full-length, one-person drama?
Everyone seems to have friends like these—except maybe for the people who actually are friends like these. Sometimes we need to find ways to get such friends to chill out, get their heads on straight, get their lives together, or get their noses back into their own business.
It is interesting how, even though a friend’s problem behavior may be highly visible to the group, we remain fearful of actually calling the person out—even if it’s in their own best interest. Women in particular may fear hurting a friend’s feelings, yet will easily join in discussions of how unpleasant the person's behavior is when they're out of earshot.
Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do is to organize a friendervention.
A “friendervention” is pretty much the same as an “intervention” but in this case, the unacceptable behavior may be general rudeness, overimbibing, or any of a range of other behaviors that make it difficult for a group to function. Following are some tips to get you started:
- First, friends should all be on the same page—and motivated by honest concern for their friend, not just dislike of a habit. The end goal is to keep the friend.
- Friends should be willing to honor their friendships and the group, but be willing to stand against the behavior—not the person.
- Have one person agree to be the spokesperson—ideally someone especially likely to be “heard” by the friend.
- If things get heated, and you are not the spokesperson, don’t throw that person under the bus, or let that person be the fall guy if the target friend responds with hostility to your good intentions.
- At the same time, don’t let your friend (metaphorically) kill the messenger.
The friendervention must be a collaborative effort. Everyone needs to stand together and make it “okay” for their friend to change their behavior and move forward. Choose a reasonable time (not close to the friend’s birthday or anniversary or final exams or an annual work push). The goal is to help your friend, not break them.
One man I worked with shared a story about his own "friendervention," thrown by a group of guys he had hung out with since college—and with whom he learned how much he could and could not drink in a single evening. One of his three close friends in the group was a non-drinker who was always willing to be the designated driver (DD), until an unfortunate incident one night that was the last straw for this person. When asked by the driver, the other two friends were ready and willing to band with him to let my colleague know that his partying days needed to be scaled back. They planned the friendervention for the following Sunday afternoon.
The target of the friendervention said that the most powerful statement that his friends made that sober afternoon was, “We want to be there for you, buddy; but we can no longer be there for you." They were willing to be his friends; they were no longer were able to be his enablers. He said that he hadn’t even consciously realized he was "there" until that afternoon—and he knew that the guys were being straight with him about how it felt to be with him. He was relieved that they’d warned him to dial it back before his drinking became an even bigger problem.
After It’s Over . . .
Remind your friend—and yourselves—that the confrontation was motivated by love and concern, not malice or resentment. Give him or her an embrace or handshake, whatever seems natural and not over the top. It’s important to make sure your actions reflect the care you feel and the love you have for the friend.
Old habits are hard to break and new ones take time to develop. When you are bothered by a behavior, let your friend know it’s a strain on the relationship, not something that is wrong with them. Remember, though, that not every friendship is built for the long-term—when the distress a friend causes feels bigger than the pleasure you get from time spent in their company, it may just be time to let the relationship come to an end.
Some of us learn about friendships through our early relationships with siblings. If you are still working through sibling drama or enjoying sibling harmony, please share your stories: https://niu.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_bxRhMxu1g1hZ0jP