How to Do Unto Others

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A recent blog post by corporate consultant Richard Skaare serves up a fresh slant on networking: the best ways to help a friend who is unemployed.

"You can learn a lot from - and give a lot to - a friend or former colleague who is unemployed," writes Skaare, a communications and change management expert, on his Pocket Change blog. "This is an opportune time to do unto others as you might someday want others to do unto you."

First, he ticks off what not to say: Don't constantly bring up your friend's transitional state. Don't promise what you can't deliver. And, don't pretend to have the answers.

To avoid being a constant reminder of something unpleasant, Skaare advises starting conversations with your friend "as if she is employed like you are. If and when she brings up the unemployment issue, only then ask questions and show your support. But let her initiate it."

I wonder about that. During my last nine-month transition between employers, I would have appreciated more direct, unsolicited expressions of concern from people in my personal circle. Because all my friends and relatives seemed to approach me as if I was employed like they were, I came to feel stigmatized, like a cancer victim whose illness is too awkward to mention. So, you might be sticking your unemployed friend with the unwanted burden of reaching out to ask for your concern, if you leave it to him to raise the difficult subject first.

In the "Don't promise what you can't deliver" department, Skaare wisely advises selecting only the most relevant contacts to refer your friend to, and calling each to ask them to devote a little face time to her.

What You Should Do

With those "don'ts" out of the way, Skaare details five good ways to support an unemployed friend:

- Devote at least two hours each week to talking with him (not necessarily about the job search).

- Listen closely, and mirror your friend's emotional flow.

- Help with the truth. Let your friend voice her frustrations and fears, once she's comfortable doing that.

- Prepare to stick with your friend for however long it takes him to get re-employed. The worst time for the unemployed is three months after losing a job, according to Skaare.

- Make a sacrifice. Skaare suggests offering to look after the friend's kids, lend your extra car or even offer to lend money (as a good friend of Skaare's once offered to do for him).

I don't know about that last suggestion. Sacrifice, yes. But lending money to a friend is fraught with peril, even if it's the dearest of friends (or even a close relative). Remember the words of the Bard: "A loan doth lose both itself and friend."

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