In order for this post to work, you are going to have to work with me a little bit. That means no cheating. I trust you! 🙂 Imagine that you are having a conversation with friend who says “I just saw Bruce Springsteen perform and can honestly say it was the best concert I have ever seen.”
Now, my question to you is, what was your initial thought when reading that statement? Was it about whether or not you had ever seen Bruce Springsteen? Was it about which concert you would say is the best you’ve ever seen? If so, welcome to the human race! This is what people typically do. In fact, there is nothing wrong with having those thoughts.
My next question is, what would you typically say to a friend who made such a statement? Again, if you are like most people, you are going to make a statement about whether you’ve seen The Boss in concert or make a reference to the best concert you’ve ever seen.
The average person quickly “inserts himself” into the story of the person he is speaking with. Think about it from the perspective of the person making the original statement about the concert and how wonderful it was. Do you believe that they have more to share about the experience? Of course they do! They have lots more to share, often with much anticipation and excitement. As you probably know, we can relive some of the pleasure of such an event by sharing vivid descriptions of it. Don’t deny your friend this pleasure. There will likely be a time for you (the listener) to share a similar experience, but it is premature to change the subject to yourself. We can be better. You can be better. We can listen better.
Try this the next time you have a conversation with someone. Listen for understanding. Become completely immersed in the message that the other person is sharing. Listen to learn. Listen to understand. Listen… to listen.
Ask follow-up questions. Say things like “That sounds fascinating! Tell me more.” “Why do you say it was the best concert you ever saw? “Is that so!?” “You don’t say!” Say something brief to give them a chance to breathe, then toss the “ball” back to them. Need to know more. Be curious about their experience. Care. Show them that you care.
I challenge you to try this, at least once. It may be difficult. The temptation to read ourselves into other people’s stories is strong. After all, it is supposedly how we “relate” to one another. But too often, it leaves our conversations shallow, superficial and unfulfilling. Fight that temptation! Break that old habit! Form a new habit. Be a better listener. Be a better friend, coworker, neighbor, or family member. It is there story anyway.
I challenge you to try it, and I’m really curious to hear how it goes for you.
All the best,
By the way, I don’t charge extra for typos. They are my gift to you.