In Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection she mentions a few types of friends in relationship to responding to sharing an experience. Being a friend is one on my development areas. I used to believe I wasn’t a good friend at all, so acknowledging this as a development area instead is an improved belief for me.
I was intrigued with her friend descriptions and wondered, which friend am I when someone shares something bad with me?
- The one who gasps and confirms how horrible or negative the situation is? Continuing the shame of the speaker.
- The one who responds with sympathy (so sorry for you) instead of empathy (I get it, I feel with you, I’ve been there)?
- The one who feels like you’ve let them down with their situation? Who scolds for even getting into that situation? Judgment and blame.
- The one who denies the depth of the negativity (it’s not that bad)? Or rushes to fix it?
- The one who one-up’s with my own story? The narcissistic conservationist.
- The truly empathetic one who acknowledges them and their situation?
I realized that in my conversations with friends, I am rarely the empathizer, often the “it’s not that bad” fixer, and too often the narcissistic conservationist. Ouch. Self-referencing in conversation is the dominant way I try and make a connection! To understand this better, I did some research.
Sociologist Charles Derber describes “conversational narcissism” as the tendency to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking, and to turn the focus of the exchange to you, your experience, what you’re interested in. It can feel like one-upmanship. It’s not necessarily the intent! Often it’s a way that we try to empathize with people we care about, a search for common ground, or a connection for belonging.
But often the other person does not want to hear about your experiences (especially when they are in distress or sharing deep emotions); they just want to be heard. Showing interest in them and their stories (empathy) is actually a better way to find common ground and connection. Think about using responses that encourage the other person to continue their story. “Tell me more” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” They basically say, “I hear you”, not “Me too.”
I need to be more aware of my habit to share stories and talk about myself. I need to ask questions that encourage the other person to continue and make a conscious effort to listen more and talk less. I’ve been trying on this approach in the past few months. It’s a challenge to break old habits, especially for a storyteller like me. I’m not sure if friends have noticed, but at least I feel like it’s not all about me at the end of a conversation.
What is/are your typical ways to respond when someone shares an experience with you?
Picture Credit – Me, a shot from the Cincinnati Zoo Blooms…. because it’s spring.