Going Beyond Words: A Personality Approach to Hands-On Friend Support

Friends can be a balm in difficult times. Some friends offer support in the form of constructive reflection, empathetic warmth, or a mix of both. But I’ve noticed that, often, support is confined to the realm of just words. Many people are quick to offer sympathy and helpful suggestions, but it’s rarer that they’re willing to step in and take action. (Not everyone can, to be fair.)

A person: “Gah! My babysitter canceled, and the mechanic says my car isn’t ready! All the worry and stress!”

Their friend: “OMG that sucks, but you’re a strong person and tomorrow will be better. You got this!”

Now, don’t get me wrong, emotional support is vital when friends are in need. Sympathy and validation are powerful, and improving a friend’s mindset can help them better handle their problems. And, of course, good ideas on how to fix things can be a big help too. The words of a friend can be excellent support, but there are times when it’s worth offering a good friend more than words.

Offering Help or Helping?

Relatively basic life problems can breed a lot of stress, often because they trigger latent stress that’s been building. (If one more thing goes wrong this week…) If something goes wrong for a friend, and you’re in a position to practically address the issue, it’s amazing what a little hands-on help can accomplish. You may have an impact far greater than what’s visible on the surface.

But there can be a slight problem built into saying, “Let me know if there’s anything that I can do.” Independence, pride, or guilt over burdening a friend can make people reluctant to say what they need, even when asked. In fact, the more a friend values you, the less comfortable they might be having you spend your time, energy, and resources on their problems.

When you say something like “Let me know how to help,” it’s kind of like saying you’re willing to be asked for help. That’s a great thing, but it puts your friend in the position of having to make a request, and they may not always be up to that, especially if they’re really stressed out, upset, or down. But you can offer practical help in ways that your friends can more easily accept (as well as giving those comforting words, of course).

One method is to ask your friend if a specific action would be helpful without actually making an offer, as if you’re trying to understand their situation. It’s kind of like laying a friendly trap, because they may say what they need without feeling like they’re asking – and by then, it’s too late.

You: “So, if you had a ride to pick up the kids, that would help?”

Your friend: “Yeah, but everyone’s at work.”

You, springing the trap: “Aha! But what you didn’t know is that I can leave work early. I’ll come pick you up.”

Obviously, you shouldn’t be pushy, but when the tone of your offer is a matter-of-fact “Of course I’m going to help,” more than “I could help,” you’ll make it so much easier for a friend to accept your offer. You may not always be able to step in when a friend is in need (and you shouldn’t feel any guilt for that), but when you can, it feels awesome. Of course, that’s all well and good if a friend’s problem has a simple solution, but how do you give “hands-on” support if it doesn’t? Well, I’m glad you asked, friend.

Hands-On Support

It’s possible to go beyond words when a friend needs support just by being there for them physically as well as empathetically. Your presence itself can comfort them immensely, and what better way to demonstrate that you’re “there” for someone than by actually being there with them? Nothing’s more supportive than being ready to help in some practical way (whatever that may be), and just talking a problem through is often a great start.

Friendly distraction can also help an upset friend step back from their worries or sadness. You can’t always fix someone’s feelings, but you might be able to cheer them up by combining your positive company with an activity. Whether offering practical help or friendly distraction, you can shape your approach to your friend’s personality. Let’s consider some ideas by personality trait, which will give you five bits of advice per friend (one for each personality trait).

Don’t know your friend’s personality type? Have them take our free personality test, or you can use our Type Guesser tool.


Practical Help

With an Introverted friend, you may want to try a calm approach that respects their privacy. A bright, optimistic attitude can help them address their problem, but too much pressure or a forceful call to action might simply add to their stress. Introverted personalities are often reserved or focused with their energy, and they may appreciate it when you slide in to help subtly without making too big a splash.

Friendly Distraction

Offer an activity that’s low energy and shared just between the two of you. Adding too many people to the mix might well distract them from their woes but end up leaving them feeling drained. It may also be best to pursue a more relaxed activity than one that puts your friend in an unfamiliar situation where they’re subjected to a lot of intense external stimuli. Introverted friends may find some one-on-one fun soothing.


Practical Help

In the case of an Extraverted friend, a burst of rousing energy might be a great way to offer your help. These friends usually don’t hesitate to engage with the world around them, so bringing an action-oriented attitude to the moment can be a good way to pitch in and match their natural methods. You can offer ideas or just an extra set of hands to help them try to improve their situation.

Friendly Distraction

When it comes to fun diversions, Extraverts might appreciate and even feed off of a busy setting, including one with other people. Somewhat more dynamic activity can help friends with this personality trait recharge their positive energy and feel as though things are normal. Their minds crave external interaction, so even if it’s just the two of you, doing something energetic can help them balance feelings of sadness or worry.


Practical Help

Intuitive friends are very likely to turn their problems over in their minds, trying to understand them and see creative ways to improve things. Joining them in their thinking process can be good practical support, especially if you can help prevent them from getting lost in the darker corners of their imagination. Help keep them focused on possible solutions or brighter viewpoints, and gently guide them away from worry or pessimism.

Friendly Distraction

An activity that taps into their imagination and demands mental engagement can be a positive distraction for these personality types. That could be anything from watching a witty or fascinating show to playing a strategy game. Friends with this personality trait enjoy mental exercise for its own sake, and anything that gets them thinking about complex intangibles can not only offer them a good distraction from their problems but also bring them enjoyment.


Practical Help

When it comes to managing or even solving their problems, Observant friends often focus on realistic rather than fantastical solutions. You can support them in finding uncomplicated ways to handle their problems while also contributing an alternative (but positive) viewpoint. In their desire for practicality, they may miss some hidden possibilities that you can make them aware of, while still honoring their desire to be pragmatic.

Friendly Distraction

A pursuit based on something more tangible can help ground Observant personality types when it feels like life is spiraling out of control. Whether it’s a craft project or playing sports, an opportunity to focus on doing something in the real world can be a satisfying way to distract an Observant friend from their troubles. Consider picking an activity where the process itself is fun rather than one that depends on any measured success.


Practical Help

A Thinking friend might appreciate a results-oriented approach to support. They may also appreciate a dose of emotionally positive energy, but they will likely feel best when some kind of measurable progress can be made to improve their situation. You may not have to do much or even take the lead, but simply making yourself available as a functional resource can give Thinking friends a big boost as they try to figure out their next move.

Friendly Distraction

Activities that can help friends with this personality trait feel better might include detached technical pursuits more than human interaction. That could mean crafts, gaming, or anything where they can flex their mental acuity and personal skill with your companionable company. Activities where the focus is on a mechanical process more than social interaction can be enjoyable for these analytical minds.


Practical Help

Feeling personalities might take a more forward approach to discussing their feelings. You may want to encourage them to strike a balance between delving into their emotions and setting them aside for a while to help reset their emotional state to be more positive. A great way to do this is to project a bright, sympathetic attitude of your own that makes them feel cared for but doesn’t feed into their darker feelings.

Friendly Distraction

When sharing in an activity designed to distract them from their problems, people with the Feeling personality trait more often appreciate feeling affirmed as part of a group. That may mean just the two of you or a few friends, depending on their social taste at the moment. But a good core emphasis is one where competition is minimal and they’re made to feel like they belong – a harmonious, joyful vibe free of harsh edges.


Practical Help

Judging personality types can feel especially lost when their lives take an unexpected turn for the worse. Your approach to supporting them can focus on anything that helps them restore the order that they crave, even if it doesn’t address their main problem directly. Encouraging them to take incremental productive actions of any type can help them feel better. Even something as basic as helping them clean and organize their personal space can be very comforting to people with this personality trait when bigger problems seem beyond their ability to fix.

Friendly Distraction

Well-defined activities with crisp scheduling can help Judging personalities relax and enjoy themselves. They’ll appreciate knowing what’s going to happen in advance and having events unfold in a predictable way. For them, there’s security in familiarity, so you might even consider focusing on their favorite activities over trying anything new. A nice dose of something fun that they’re accustomed to can be very comforting when they feel out of control elsewhere in life.


Practical Help

Hands-on help for a Prospecting friend often means employing unconventional solutions or taking spontaneous action. Anything that you can do to support them in trying new approaches to their problems will probably be appreciated. But you can also be a balancing influence if their natural inclinations combine with emotional upset to produce erratic behavior that threatens to make things worse. Action for the sake of action isn’t always a good use of energy.

Friendly Distraction

Novelty can be very stimulating to friends with this personality trait, so trying out a new activity or place together could be a great way to distract them from their woes. The lure of the unknown can capture their attention, and discovering good things together can be a great way to help them connect with a more positive attitude. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean wild, off-the-wall activities and could just be unfamiliar versions of favorite experiences, like trying a new ice cream shop.


Practical Help

Whatever their preferred approach to handling their problems, Assertive friends tend to be relatively self-confident. You may notice that their perspective usually demonstrates a certain level of assurance, even as they try to figure out what to do. As you pitch in and help, it can be wise to respect their view and allow it to evolve or solidify on its own. You can certainly share your perspective, but understand that Assertive personalities’ self-assurance is a source of strength, and the best support may be for you to follow that lead.

Friendly Distraction

Assertive friends can certainly become upset when facing life challenges, but ongoing worry is not as typical for them as it is for Turbulent personality types. As a friend, you just need to think about how you can give an Assertive person an excuse to recapture their normally even keel. Chances are the more immersive the activity, the better, as giving them some distance from their negative feelings can allow these friends to regain their inner equilibrium.


Practical Help

For Turbulent friends, a practical form of assistance is helping them switch from emotional reaction to positive action – even if it’s minor. Friends with this personality trait are relatively prone to stress and anxiety, which can mute the qualities that might otherwise help them handle their problems. A great goal is to help Turbulent friends gain any degree of productive momentum. You can do this with a kind, supportive push from behind, or you can lead them in a positive direction by taking action on their behalf and then tugging them gently along.

Friendly Distraction

Worry and pessimism can be persistent inner influences for Turbulent friends, but these personalities also tend to be highly receptive to outside influence when they’re at an emotional low point. When you inject something lighthearted into their field of attention, it can be a welcome distraction. If you model your own bright, humorous energy, you may lift your friend’s spirits enough that they’re willing to engage in some fun distractions with you, even if they’re initially reluctant. For Turbulent friends, a little silliness can work wonders.

Putting Together Something Comforting

It’s hard to express how profoundly helpful active involvement can be to a friend without sounding preachy or creating pressure to give too much of yourself. Just the sense of your presence and involvement can work wonders, even without providing a concrete curative action or deed. It’s not always possible or appropriate to get involved, but when it is, the good that you can do shouldn’t be underestimated.

The above trait-based guidance can help you tailor your approach, but don’t worry too much about getting it “perfect.” The most important component is you – just showing that you care enough to be at a friend’s side will make them feel much better, despite whatever’s going on in their life. Don’t underestimate the classic “go on a walk and just talk” approach either, as giving your friend a chance to voice their stress to a sympathetic ear can be very healing.

It’s also important to talk to your friend and find out what kind of activity they’re up for – or not. In times of trouble and stress, people’s preferences may shift a little. Activities that would normally match their personality may not seem so appealing if their emotional state is fragile, so some gentle inquiry can go a long way. Your Extraverted, Prospecting friend might indeed love the distraction of a wild amusement park visit, or they might be in the mood for something a bit tamer than normal.

Finally, when you’re stepping in to provide some hands-on support for a friend, do whatever you can to make things easy on them. Think of yourself as the host of the experience and them as the guest. That might mean doing the driving, planning, or any other activities that might be burdensome – or letting them do so, if being in control makes them feel better. Even if you and your friend just end up doing something simple like grabbing lunch, they’ll never forget how you were willing to go beyond words when they needed support.

Further Reading

Emotional Intelligence Test (Premium resource.)

You Can Create Better Friendships with Personality Typing

Asking for Help Part I: Harder for Some Personality Types than Others

Asking for Help Part II: Some Stories Personality Types Tell Themselves

Your Friend Has 99 Problems: Do You Feel Overwhelmed?