How do you give emotional support at a distance?

When I have to give emotional support up close I’m pretty good at it considering my male gender. I know how to ask questions, listen patiently, allow emotions to come out, stifle my urges to give advice, etc.

But two incidents have come up lately where I was absolutely tongue tied, or in one case keyboard tied.

An old friend of mine that I hadn’t spoken to in years screwed up big time at work. He didn’t do anything illegal but he made a really dumb mistake that cost his firm a lot of money and prestige. It came out in the papers, which is how I found out. He’s a very compulsive, hard working kind of guy. I’m sure the public exposure hurt him real bad. I was tempted to call him up and offer support but I had no idea what to say.

Then I got an email from someone in my field who is very, very successful and who I’d describe as more of a colleague than a friend. I don’t dislike him at all, but we have big incompatibilities so we’ve never done anything socially. In the email he mentioned that he’s recently been suffering from a lot of stress from things inside and outside of work. I responded to the work issues in the email and ignored his reaching out.

In either case if the person had called me or spoke to me face to face I have no doubt I’d know exactly what to say.

In the first case there’s something about calling someone I haven’t spoken to in a long time and bringing up his bad news. In the second example I just can’t see conversing back and forth about his anxieties via email.

So, any suggestions? Remember I’m kind of paralyzed by both so even the most obvious stuff would be appreciated.

If calling the person makes you uncomfortable, try doing it via email or IMs if you really want to help them out. I mean, it’s going to have to be one or the other and if you really want to help them, then you have to do something.

And speaking as someone who has helped and been helped by an online friend or two with emotional support, really, it’s no different than giving it to them face to face… reading what they write, giving them what advice you think they can handle, just being there to listen – it all helps. In most cases, they just want someone to unload to and a sympathetic ear to rant to or a shoulder to cry on is all they really need or want.

Just follow your instincts as if you were with the person face to face.

I see what you mean, Plan B.

Both situations are or could be, awkward as hell. Expressing sympathy in writing especially, is not one of my strong points but I do my best and I know from experience that it’s appreciated.

If you really want to help, anything’s better than nothing. They might appreciate your kindness even if it is a bit uncomfortable.