Just the other day I was talking to a friend who was sharing an experience they had at work. They were sharing how frustrated they were and what they were going through and all of a sudden I did it…
I did that thing when you reply to someone else’s story with your own in a subconscious attempt to relate or look better (or some strange mix of the two).
I had to correct myself midway and apologize for trampling over what my friend was sharing just because I wanted to talk.
Each story has a subtext the speaker is trying to communicate
So often we excitedly share our own story with a friend who is seeking connection and vulnerability and affirmation. And in the process we neglect the connection they longed for.
I can remember countless times when I’ve shared a story with someone and they respond with a story of their own. And that only shifts the focus to their experience and their problems.
All I was looking for was affirmation and vulnerability...
How often does this happen to you?
We often share stories and experiences with people because we’re looking for something deeper than the story being told.
We’re looking for the community-saturated narrative that is shared in the exchange of stories and experiences and ideas.
But, sometimes we forget this critical aspect of communication: that there is a subtext to each word. A deeper longing that exists below the text and phrases.
Because although we share stories, we really longing to communicate our desire for connection and affirmation and feedback.
How a quick reply will damage your relationship
When someone tells you a story, it’s so easy to quickly bounce back a story of your own... and the time you dealt with the same problem… and the grand recovery you had… even if your story was about 6 years ago and the person you’re talking to is dealing with something very real right now!
We don’t realize how we trivialize the person in front of us by dismissing the connection they’re looking for and shooting off a quick reply.
And we trample over the subtext of what is being communicated when we reply with a story that has no true value behind it.
Quick replies that don’t carry value or substance will only rot the trust and communication between two people.
How to reclaim connection with meaningful replies
Sometimes, responding to someone with a story of your own can be incredibly helpful when used with care.
Story responses can help in 2 ways:
They help you empathize by contextualizing what someone is saying through experiences you’ve had
They help the other person understand your empathy and how you had a similar experience just like them
The key in replying to someone with your own story is empathy.
Most people go wrong by telling a story that only paints them as the hero. But, having empathy helps you communicate with story as a way to come alongside someone instead of pushing them down.
Discernment is key to your role as a listener. Ultimately, it’s the listeners job to understand the subtext behind a story. Is the speaker seeking affirmation or support?
Having discernment and empathy allows us to understand the appropriate response by searching for the speaker’s true intent behind their story.
I’ve found the most valuable thing to facilitate meaningful conversation is to simply ask good questions.
Learn to become engrossed in the stories that people tell you. Investigate the narrative arc and display your empathy.
If you become genuinely interested in the lives of the people around you, you’ll find yourself exceeding at relationships.
“Instead, your job is just to be with them. Give them a space to express their feelings. Give them a space to talk if they want. Give them the assurance that even though you can’t fix their problem, they don’t have to face it alone.” - Daniel Wendler
Our role as a listener is never to impress. Our role as a listener is to always be actively aware of the speaker’s intent and discern how to respond with true empathy.
Sometimes that looks like a thoughtful question, sometimes that looks like affirmation, sometimes that looks like a similar story that shows compassion.
When we can remove our ego, we can respond with life-giving speech.
Make it your goal to always have a response that communicates “I’m in this with you” instead of a response that says “now it’s my turn to speak and talk about my stories”.