Fierce Kindness in Action: The ONE Question Every Caring Friend Should Ask First

Two Men in Deep Meaningful Hug being a Caring Friend

I first came across this question in a newsletter from a colleague in the kindness field, Clare Kennedy, also known as Clare Kindness1! And as soon as I read the question, I thought, “I need to start doing that!” And then I thought, “It’s not just me—we all need to do this!”

And then it got personal

That week I was feeling pretty down. As you may already know, we’ve been living with friends and intensely searching for a home for the last 4 months! But there weren’t many houses for sale and there were lots of people buying.

We didn’t expect it to take this long. We needed to be out from our friend’s place in 10 weeks as they had guests from overseas visiting—and we had just lost out on the third home we’d offered on. So that evening as I walked with a friend, I told her what had happened and how I was feeling.

What I needed was for my friend to say: Wow, that sounds really hard. No wonder you’re feeling down.

But instead what I got was solutions. Have you tried _____? What about looking in _____ area instead? Could you _____? And have you thought of _____? You get the picture.

Of course my friend meant (extremely) well. She, like me, is a solutioniser. A doer. And these skills serve us well in life. We make things happen!

But I left our encounter feeling let down and frustrated. Because there is a time and a place for solutionising. And that was not it…

You too?

I’m sure you’ve also had this experience: where you needed someone to listen, acknowledge how you’re feeling and reassure, commiserate or give you a hug. But instead all you got was ideas and helpful suggestions?

Often it’s men that get the bad rap for not listening and coming up with solutions instead. But women do it too. Myself included (in fact my husband will tell you I can be pretty annoying).

Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable to see our loved ones in pain. We want to fix it for them. But that’s really about us isn’t it?

And as a life coach, I know better.

But it’s not just unwanted solutionising…

Have you ever felt so raw that you couldn’t talk about it (yet)? What you needed was a long hug. Yet the person you’re with keeps pressing you to talk, asking questions you’re not ready to answer yet. And you’re thinking: Please stop talking!!! I just want a HUG!

Or perhaps someone was intent on giving you a big hug, when you all you want to do is VENT and get it out of your system!

So, what should we do when someone we care about is upset?

Well, of course that depends on the person! And the situation.

OK. So how on earth do we know if we should listen, brainstorm solutions or simply offer a hug?

Well, the answer is simple: Ask!

Here’s the question we should ask when someone is upset:Hand with Butterflies

Do you want to be Helped, Heard or Hugged?

Yes, it’s probably going to be a little uncomfortable. You might feel a little silly. But that courage and awkwardness will pay you back a hundredfold as you’ll now be able to give your loved one or friend EXACTLY what they need!

In fact this is Fierce Kindness in action: being brave and kind!

So far, I’ve used this question once

A good friend recently had to have their (young) pet euthanised. The situation was not straightforward. And I managed to catch myself BEFORE solutionising and said, “OK I know this question might sound a little odd, but do you want to be helped, heard or hugged?”

And lo and behold, yes, what she wanted was for me to just listen. She “had” the situation. And what she needed right then was to feel heard by someone who cared.

Then, after some listening, I offered a hug, which was gladly given and received—but only after she felt listened to and had got everything off her chest.

As a direct result of that question, I was able to give my friend the support she actually needed, instead of making assumptions. And it created a beautiful and deep sense of connection.

Finally, you can also use this powerful question on yourself!

Now that you know this powerful question, when you’re feeling upset, you can ask yourself what you need:

Do I want to be helped, heard or hugged?

This empowers and informs you so you can get exactly what you need, when you need it.

And you can spare your loved ones the awkwardness of doing the wrong thing! Instead ask yourself the question to learn what you want—and then give someone the opportunity to support you in the exact way you need it!

Wrap-up Fierce Kindness Logo

So, what do you think? To be honest, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to learn something so simple.

But I knew, as soon as I read that question, that it would be life changing for me—and my loved ones…

Change the world. Start with you!

If you liked this, you may also like:

1 You can learn more about Clare Kindness Kennedy (Kind Workplace Specialist, Keynote Speaker) on her website here.

Image of Two Men in Deep Meaningful Hug being a Caring Friend by Diego Cervo via Shutterstock


  1. Lynda

    Hi, Em, I love this question! Great article. Thinking of you & D as you soon move into your new house soon! Xo

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Lynda, thank-you for taking the time to comment—and for your kind words. So glad you like this 🙂
      Em x

  2. Sam

    Hi Emma-Louise, Love this! I’m going to add it to my list of great questions and I’m going to try it out the next opportunity I have to do so. Blessings on your move, trust it goes well.

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Sam,
      Thank-you so much for taking the time to comment—and for your kind words. So glad you like this 🙂
      You made me wonder how useful this question could be in our coaching! I know we assume we should help our clients, after all, isn’t that what they pay us for? And yet, sometime they might need a virtual hug, or simply to feel heard…
      Love Emma-Louise x


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