Keep Your Story to Yourself

Couple of young men talking on the stairs of an office

by Dan Weyerhaeuser, Senior Pastor

We’ve been learning a strategy to become great communicators, which begins with becoming great listeners. I am convinced that anyone can be a great listener. I am also convinced that being a great listener is not natural. It takes being thoughtful and intentional. But it pays off. 80% of healing is just telling your story and being heard. You can do that for someone… if you listen well.

Everyone’s first, great need is to be listened to. If you work on these things, people open up to you and say things like, “Thank you so much for listening!” This is what you say when someone listened to you well. The truth is, it is an incredible honor that people would bring you into their lives and want you to share in their experiences. We want to handle it well.

Lets review: R.E.A.D. stands for:

  • Repeat what the person shared until they agree you heard them.
  • Experience – Name what emotions the person experienced in the story they shared.
  • Affirm every true thing you can about the person’s position,

And only THEN

  • Disclose your own stories and view.

In these posts, we are talking about Experience, and I’d like to address a “land mine” people step on all the time. How many times have you heard someone listening to another person’s story and say, “I know exactly how you feel. I once had a similar experience…” and launch on their own tale. Boom! (and not in a good way).

I understand why it happens. For one thing, we aren’t always sure what to say to someone’s story, but feel a pressure to give counsel. What we DO know is our own story, and so we can downshift to talk about us. And of course, we all long for people to hear us, and if the flow of conversation prompts memories and feelings in me about my own life, my attention really can leave the person sharing and I can make it about me.

Other times, we want people to hear that we DO know what they are feeling. “I’ve been there, too” might help. And indeed it does with some things, a person sharing a trauma is helped to know the person they are talking to has suffered too. I suspect abuse victims, orphans, and parents who’ve lost children are all a part of their own communities and there is a comfort in this.

However, premature self-disclosures can backfire in a number of ways:

1)   Wrench in the gears: For one thing, the person sharing is opening up and is on a roll. Their attention is on their own experiences which they are walking you through, and suddenly you are asking them to leave their story and enter yours. It’s like throwing a car in reverse that was already driving forward. Just watch the face of a person who has just been told, “I know how you feel” and then subjected to someone else’s story, and you will see the interruption they are experiencing.

2)   Bad aim: Sometimes the story we tell of our experiences is only slightly like their experience. If your story is only a little like theirs, you have communicated that in fact you don’t understand what they are feeling. More than that, if they feel their suffering was far greater than yours and you don’t get this, they will likely shut down and be done talking. You were firing at communicating you know their pain, but you missed.

3) Turning the tables: And of course sometimes when someone’s story triggers our own, we can genuinely want to be heard about our tale. But it is a vulnerable thing to let people into what you are feeling and this too shuts people down quickly.

When you can, I suggest you just “keep your story to yourself.” I am not saying there is never a place to communicate your own experiences in listening to someone else. My advice is that, first of all, you try not to do it. Keep the story about them. But if you DO feel like your story will help them know you get it, make sure your story doesn’t make the conversation about you but keeps it about them.

There will be a time to share you story. But for now, you are listening. The simple way to do this is to summarize your story in one or two sentences, and follow it up with a question about them.  Share what happened to you, how it felt to you quickly, and then ask, “Is that anything like what you are feeling?”

Keep at it, my friend!

One comment

  1. Wow does that hit close to home! I’ve been know as a good listener by many but I have caught myself (usually after the fact!) jumping in with MY similar (or not) story. You can actually see the demeanor of the person you were ministering too just a few minutes earlier change and become quiet. If God opens my eyes (and I react) soon enough, I apologize and ask them to continue. Definitely a work in progress on this one especially when I am excited about something God has done in my life. And, as you stated so well, you’ll get your chance to tell your story soon enough.

    Like

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