“Oh, no — how did you respond?” [Room for reply.] [Any sincere praise or sympathy you can offer.]
“Are you okay?” [Room for reply.]
“What do you think you’ll do now?” [Room for reply.]
“Is there anything I can say or do to help with that, or would you rather I just listen?” [Room for reply.]
This template allows respect for the seriousness of the issue and respect for the competence of the person confiding in you — and where you’d normally want to share your feelings, which could come across as critical or judgmental, it instead allows sympathy for others’ feelings. And it props the door for you to be asked to get involved.
— from Carolyn Hax, Washington Post, 9/7/19