A big part of what we do at WhatFriendsDo is help organize the helpers. Almost everyone wants to help, but often they don't know what to do. As a result, they either don't do anything or they do something that may not be helpful. They may drop in for a visit when their friend is trying to rest. They may drop off the 5th homemade lasagna in a week. Or, how about the ones who start talking about their own experience when their friend really just needs them to listen?

We find that our best team organizers are the ones who don't mind being a little bossy. It's so much easier for them to tell the team "no more lasagna, please" than it is for the friend in need. It really takes the awkwardness out of the equation.

I once had to tell a male team member who signed up to help with post surgery wound care that his female friend was only comfortable with a woman helping with that task. She was mortified and didn't know what to do. For me, I simply reached out and kindly explained the situation and then removed the task from the team calendar. The single most important thing I've learned about helping a friend in need is that sometimes being a good friend means telling people what NOT to do.

So now, friend to friend, we're here to tell you 5 things NOT to do when helping a friend (and please don't take it personally):

  1. Drop in unannounced - a friend recovering from surgery or chemotherapy may very likely not be up for visitors. Check on their team calendar to see if time for visits have been scheduled or send a text message to see when a good time might be.

  2. Take "No" personally -- in continuation of #1, learn how to take no for an answer and always remember this is not about you. The last thing your friend needs to worry about is hurting your feelings.

  3. Show up with food without asking -- helping with meals is probably the most common way your friend may need help and it's also the most common way that well-intended help turns out to not be helpful. There are so many things to consider when taking a meal such as food preferences, restrictions and allergies. Take these factors into consideration and ask your friend before bringing a meal.

  4. Forget to do what you said you would do -- put it on your calendar, set an alarm, tie a ribbon around your finger but no matter what, don't forget and don't be late. If you offer to do something for your friend in need, they are reasonably going to expect you to follow through. Put yourself in their shoes and make sure to remember to do what you said you would.

  5. Always assume that your friend wants to hear about your personal experience -- when your friend confides in you and talks about his/her experiences, listen. Don't assume you should jump right into talking about your own similar experience or hardship. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a friend is sit quietly and listen to your friend talk.