How to Confront a Friend
Who Has Hurt Someone

Angry Man Mistreating People

When you observe a friend or family member mistreat someone, you instinctively want to help.  It’s very difficult to stand aside and watch anyone be hurt.  Let etiquette be your guide.

There is a fine line between helping someone and meddling in a situation.  You know your advice is probably not sought, but bringing facts to light is a respectful thing to do. 

Start a Dialogue

The first step is to be sure you aren’t misreading the situation, or taking sides in an ongoing argument.  Having first-hand information that you’ve personally observed, rather than hearsay, is the most reliable guide.

Begin with discovery-type questions in a casual manner: “Fred, is everything okay between you and Stacy?”  Depending on Fred’s response, you might further voice your concern, “I noticed you seemed very upset with her the other night when we were out together.  It concerned me.”

Again, depending on Fred’s response, you might take the conversation deeper, or drop it for now.  Expressing concern in an atmosphere of trust and respect may prevent him from feeling judged and going on the defensive. 

It is important that this, and any further dialogue on the subject, take place in person.  Or at the very least, via telephone.  This is not the kind of conversation to have via email, text, or in the presence of other people.

Organize Your Approach

Whether your approach comes after an initial dialogue, or if you are considering a direct confrontation, it has a better chance of success if you’re prepared. 

Plan what you will say using these guidelines:

  • Know the facts about what you have seen. 
  • Arrange a time to see your friend privately to have a conversation.
  • Remain calm and clear-headed.  
  • Be clear about your intentions.  (“I care about you and want you to be happy in this relationship.”)
  • Stay on topic.  Stick to what you’ve observed and don’t generalize into other situations (“You always . . .”).  No accusations!
  • Listen carefully.
  • Keep an open mind.  Be willing to give the benefit of the doubt if warranted.

Remember, you are sharing as an offer of help, not meddling in a social situation.  If you are cut off or asked not to interfere, you should honor that request.

If Matters Escalate

Let’s hope that your friend is going through some sort of emotional hiccup, would never otherwise mistreat someone, and is receptive to your voice of concern. 

Unfortunately, when people consistently mistreat others (or become abusive), they usually don’t appreciate being called on it - even by a close friend. 

If this is the case, it may be time to distance yourself from that person.  The type of relationship you have with her/him will also determine your best course, but it’s very difficult to carry on a friendship with someone who is not respectful of another person.


Note:  The above guidelines are for manageable social circumstances.  If you are witness to an escalated abusive situation, seek help and/or call 911 immediately.

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