Do you get uncomfortable when someone brings up a serious problem?

It's very difficult to respond when someone tells you that the cancer came back, or their parents are getting divorced, or they are failing their classes. A common response is to shift to a more lighthearted topic – usually after a brief, awkward pause.

But what if the person really needed to talk about their problem? What if they took a big leap of courage to tell you how they were really doing – and then you changed the topic as if nothing had happened?

Most of the time when someone brings up a problem with you, it's because they want to talk about it. It's deeply comforting to have someone care enough to listen to your problems, so you can help your friend just by listening.

I know it's uncomfortable to listen to a problem when you can't fix it, but trust me. You make a difference just by listening.

So as a rule of thumb – if someone wants to talk about problem they're having, make yourself available to listen. Ask them questions. Be curious and supportive. Don't try to fix it, but let them know that you are on their side.

If they want to change the topic, let them. But if they're not afraid to talk about their pain, you should be brave too.

Next: Don't panic