“You alright mate?”- a question that’s hard to say no to.
Often, when someone says: “You alright?”, it can seem more like a statement than a question. If you are on the receiving end of a “You alright?”, you may feel that replying “Actually, no”, would not be acceptable to the person asking.
The same can be true when you are the one asking the question to someone else. Even if you are genuinely interested in how someone is feeling, they may not know this is the case. Therefore, they may respond with a brush off comment such as “Not too bad” or “Yeah, fine, you?”. Or they may assume your intentions by saying something like “Not great, but you don’t want to hear about that”.
These phrases act as a barrier, helping the person avoid looking vulnerable to you, in case you are not actually interested in them. However, if you can learn to spot these kinds of phrases, they can also be an indication that the person would like help (or at least someone to talk to) but they don’t want to directly ask.
If you get one of these responses and follow it up with another, similar question, you show the individual that you are genuinely interested in their real answer, (which can be a huge deal to someone who is struggling). Asking the individual again gives them a sort of social “permission”, which may encourage them to be more honest and direct with you.
If they still choose not to open up, that is their call. The individual may struggle to be open generally or may need some more time before they decide it is safe to disclose how they are feeling to you. Either way, showing you care is unlikely to have a negative effect, and may encourage them to open up to you in the future.
People can be afraid of being rejected if they open up too much.
Occasionally, people will actually tell you what is happening with them, but caveat it with an assumption that they are being a burden in some way such as; “This is probably too much information but…” or “You probably don’t want to hear about this but…”. When they do this, they are hedging their bets, they want to be listened to and responded to, but are guarding themselves by pre-empting a rejection. One of the best things you can do if someone starts a conversation with one of these phrases is to reassure them that you do want to listen to them and that you don’t judge them for what they are speaking about.
Simply listening and understanding their pain can really help. At this point it’s unlikely that they’re looking for advice. If they want your advice they will ask you what you would do in their situation, and they are welcoming your opinion. If they don’t ask, just listening and showing you understand how hard this is for them is a great support. Giving them your attention is the best way to show them you care.
If you feel you have the capacity and would like to help others but are unsure how, noticing these verbal cues can be a good place to start. If you manage to build a relationship with the individual and believe they have been struggling for a while, you may want to suggest counselling to them. But bear in mind that deciding to have counselling is a very personal choice, so if they decide against your suggestion, try not to take it personally.
I hope recognising these cues helps you to help someone else. Spreading a little kindness can really make a difference.