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.
But there is a fine line between helping someone and meddling in a situation. Do you know the difference?
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 really snapped at her the other night when we were out together. It concerned me to see the two of you like that.”
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.
Whether your approach comes after an initial dialogue, or if you’re planning a direct confrontation, it has a better chance of success if you’re prepared.
Plan what you will say using these guidelines:
Remember, you are offering help to a friend, not meddling in a social situation. If you are cut off or asked not to interfere, you should honor that request.
Let’s hope that your friend is going through some sort of emotional hiccup, would never otherwise mistreat someone, and is receptive to your help.
Unfortunately, when people consistently mistreat others (or become abusive), they usually don’t appreciate you calling them on it - even if you are 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 enjoy an authentic friendship with an abuser.
Note: The above guidelines are for manageable social circumstances. If you are witness to an escalated abusive situation, please seek help and/or call 911 immediately.