Supportive conversation library

Questions and strategies to help you have a supportive conversation with someone you care about on difficult topics like mental health, stress, addiction, anger, abuse or lying.

Introduction

Welcome to the Supportive conversation library.

We all need help at times, and support from family or friends can provide significant relief. This resource was created to improve your comfort and effectiveness when having difficult conversations.

The goal of a supportive conversation is for the person to feel safe discussing issues with you and understand you’re there to support them.

Browse through the list below to find a relevant topic that can help you start a conversation with someone you care about.

But first, let’s review some guidelines for engaging in supportive conversations.

Guidelines for supportive conversations

A supportive conversation can help when you notice someone acting differently or in a concerning way and decide to discuss this with them. Asking about what you notice can help clarify whether the individual’s also concerned about their change in behaviour or the way they feel.

Remember – Support can mean listening or being there for someone. Support doesn’t have to be mean problem solving, rescuing or giving advice.

Noticing and validating how someone else is feeling or behaving can help them feel valued as they begin their healing journey.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when attempting a supportive conversation:

Have the right mindset 

Come into the conversation from a supportive stance. Watch out for your own hidden agenda, such as wanting to fix or influence the individual. Avoid “you” statements, such as “you always do…”. They often make the person feel judged or criticized. Be curious and have the mindset that you don’t know anything about their experiences.

Notice 

Notice changes in behaviour that aren’t typical for the person and ask about them. Don’t add your assumptions or opinions about why those changes may be happening. If you’re wrong, the person may be discouraged from continuing the conversation.

Listen

Listen for where the individual feels unsupported or isn’t getting their needs met. When they’re finished speaking, confirm what you heard by rephrasing it and asking if you understood them correctly.

Highlight strengths

Highlight the strengths you see in the person you’re trying to support. You might call out their courage or persistence dealing with the situation they just shared with you.

Identify what support

Identify the supports the individual wants and connect them with relevant resources. Don’t insist on support or resources they don’t want or aren’t ready to accept.

Create an action plan

Create an action plan with the individual to leverage their strengths. Then, follow up regularly and add more resources when they’re ready. Give a clear timeline or understanding of how you’ll support them.

Preparing your mindset for a supportive conversation

People address life challenges when they’re ready. Ultimately, no one can force another to embrace changes in their life. However, noticing and asking about another’s well-being lays the groundwork for supporting them on a healing journey – no matter how often you attempt the conversation. You’re doing the right thing by asking about their well-being.

Concern for another’s safety

When you listen to someone who needs support, they may tell you about circumstances that show they're at risk of harming themselves, being harmed or potentially harming another. If you’re concerned for someone’s safety, direct your concerns to 911 for clarification on how to proceed.

 

This resource was created with the assistance of Iris the Dragon. This charity has over 20 years of experience developing and distributing proven health promotion and awareness-raising tools to reduce stigma in society towards the topic of mental health and wellness. Find out more about Iris the Dragon’s work and other tools at www.iristhedragon.com

Supportive conversation topics

Someone you care about…