Talk to a friend

two parrots - image

How to ask a friend if they are doing OK is not always easy. Yet it is easy to convince yourself that it is none of your business, but that doesn't create a world that is particularly supportive.

Learn some of the basics or brush up on your questioning skills - it is a skill worth mastering.

  • How to ask

    Asking questions that need more than a yes or no answer can be really useful. It’s OK to be direct and ask things like “What’s going on at home?” rather than “have you been OK lately?”

    The words “Are you really OK?” are simple but they aren’t always easy to ask. The Wellbeing Warriors went to Clubsland to find out how our student clubs and associations ask. Starting a conversation like this might be one of the best things you do today.

  • Phrasing questions

    When we feel judged, it can prevent us from sharing our worries and asking for help. Start by acknowledging someone’s feelings, seeking permission to ask questions and listening with genuine interest. The following examples demonstrate the importance of phrasing.

  • Tone to Use

    The tone of voice you use when asking a question can make a big difference. A good way of setting the tone is to share something you’ve noticed and ask a gentle question:

    •  You seem a bit distracted today, how's everything going at home?
    •  You looked tired in the tute. Are you sleeping OK?
  • The importance of context

    If we really want to know how someone is, try to ask in a quiet, relaxing place where you have time to listen to the answer.

  • How your friend might respond

    Sometimes you might worry how someone will respond to "Are you OK?"

    If someone genuinely asks how you are, and you trust that they will listen without judgement and hold back on suggestions, a negative response is quite unlikely. But if your concern is brushed aside, try to remember that the person may be in pain. Try not to take responses personally, recognise that it might not be the right time or place and find a different way to check in with them if you’re concerned. Sometimes, asking in a different tone or phrasing, listening and giving them time can be really helpful.

  • The angry response

    Sometimes the response you get to asking how someone is isn’t what you expect, for example, a friend might become irritated or angry. This doesn’t mean you have done the wrong thing. It can feel confronting when someone notices you aren’t OK but it can also prompt them to ask for help.

  • How to respond to what you have been told

    If we want to know how someone is, it’s a good idea to know how to respond if the answer is no. The Wellbeing Warriors asking our student clubs and associations what they would do. Here are their responses.

    Golden rules

    • Listen
    • Try not to make suggestions too readily
    • Don't over sympathise


    This is the MOST important thing you can do. Feeling listened to can help us feel better without any other action – it can be that powerful. Try to avoid jumping to conclusions and really turn your listening skills on.

    Scale back suggestions

    Try not to make suggestions too quickly, or maybe don't make any suggestions at all. Spend at least a few minutes listening and asking some more questions about the situation. Clarify things to show you understand.

    Making suggestions can sometimes be insulting as people have often tried many things to resolve their situation. Listening can highlight what’s been unhelpful for the person and may even lead to a solution they haven’t previously considered. In short, hold off on the advice and get more of the story first.

    Don't over sympathise

    You might think you are sympathising well by saying something like,"Oh, that is really terrible!" but it can make us feel worse.

    A better way of moving forward might be to say

    • "So how have you been coping with all that?"
    • "How do you feel about all that?"
    • "How is all this affecting you?"