How do you Listen & Respond?

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.


23 thoughts on “How do you Listen & Respond?

  1. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and I too learn from Brene.

    I know I was (and still can be until I take myself in hand and stop!) a fixer.

    I was someone ready with the answer, the me example…and over the past 2 years I have learned how to listen.

    Really listen, empathise too.

    I give a speaker my full attention in body language and mood.

    It has enhanced my relationship with my nearest and dearest I reckon.

    Denyse #mlstl

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Denyse, It’s wonderful to know that the shift has enhanced your relationships – there is hope for me. I’m going to continue to work on being a better, more empathetic listener.


  2. What in interesting post! I’m not sure where I land on the continuum… I imagine it changes depending on circumstances. Being introverted, I’m definitely more of a listener, but I’m also very analytical so I do have a tendency to suggest possible solutions (a fixer). Several times in the past, when friends have shared very heavy, personal stories, I’ve actually asked them what they would like from me. Sometimes it’s just to listen, sometimes it’s to help them process what they are going through, sometimes they want suggestions/input. Basically, different situations and/or personalities, require different approaches. When in doubt, ask.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Janice, I love that idea! Asking then what they would like from me… I will definitely be stealing that and trying it out. Thanks for giving me another clear set of words to use.


  3. First of all, Pat, I love your photo. What beautiful flowers! And then, because you asked–not because I want to take over the conversation–I think I might be more of a sympathizer or a fixer. As one of your other followers said, it would be interesting to see how my friends and family would describe my listening style. We have an exercise in sangha where members are invited to share and the rest of us to practice deep listening, that is listening with your full attention and without responding. If your attention wanders, you bring it back, similar to what you do during meditation. It’s more challenging than you might think. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Christie – the flowers were simply lovely! A friend & I walked around for an hour looking at them. Anyway, listening with full attention was an exercise we did in a recent women’s writing circle I went to. And as you pint out, it was challenging! As with all things, I am hoping it (listening more) becomes easier with practice.


  4. Donna, I have been aware for a while that I have a tendency to be a fixer and I also self-reference. I wish I would stop and sometimes I catch myself and do stop. I kick myself so often because I knew I should have hushed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do believe that awareness is the first step. I’ve caught myself a few times now getting into the self-reference and then stopping and shifting back. I am hoping over time to be even more aware and stop it before it starts.


  5. Hi Pat, this was an interesting exercise and I found myself wondering how to answer the questions. It’s interesting trying to work out how others see you as a friend. I know I am trying to be more empathetic but do have a tendency to try to fix things too. Very thought provoking post! Sharing for #mlstl

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debbie, One friend via FB commented that I’m much more of a listener with her. I think my tendency to talk “me” is when I’m more stressed in creating a good first impression on new possible friend. Probably one of the worse times to be doing that. Yes, Listen More is a new skill for me, especially when is stress situations.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Pat, I would like to think my friends see me as a dependable and loving friend who is always there if they need me. I do however, sometimes talk about myself not because I want to be the centre of attention but I’m eager to share news that is happening in my life. Lately, I’ve been more mindful of this and allowing my friends to take over the conversation, with me listening more than leading the chat. Thank you for sharing at #MLSTL and giving me another reminder to listen rather than speak.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sue, I sometimes think I write posts because I need to hear the message myself – comments reinforce the message back to me! Yes, listen more is a work in progress for me.


  7. Pat I think both of your friend examples are my weaknesses too. I tend to want to fix people and I use examples of my own life in the process (because I’ve had enough sucky stuff happen, I assume that minimizes someone else’s issue!) Empathy is a tough one for me too, but being aware of it is half the problem solved and I think we’re both doing our best with what we have so that’s got to be a good thing doesn’t it?
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leanne, I am a huge believer that awareness is half the battle. And I am becoming more aware of trying to listen more. Sometimes it’s a bit rough in conversation as I’m aware I’ve shifted it to me and I abruptly shiftt back to a “tell me more”… but I’m hoping it continues to get more natural!


    1. I had to laugh at your “tune out”. I have one friend who our talks were always about her. I realized, she had no one else to really talk to about her life, and that was my gift to her. To listen to her for an hour (as we walked)…and try and recall things to ask her about the next week. That mind shift helped me not tune out and also not feel like she didn’t want to hear about me. She needed this from our friendship at that time of our life.


  8. It would be interesting to ask others how they see me. As an introvert, I am a great listener. And I ask questions. I might occasionally bring up my own story or acknowledge understanding of the situation but the last thing I want is to shift the attention to me. My downfall is that I don’t always remember what I’ve heard so I feel like a bad friend later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve gotten into that as well… not remembering things friends told me. Not sure if its getting worse with age, or that I just didn’t care as much years ago. Ah well, if we are all being more forgetful, we are all being more forgiving too, hmm?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Pat,

    Like you I think I am guilty of too much self-referencing, for the same reasons. I want to make the person feel comfortable – like they are not the only one this has happened to. Usually I can catch myself before the conversation gets swung too much my way.

    But sometimes (especially if it brings back traumatic memories), I can get sucked down a rabbit hole of deep thoughts, and that is not helpful for the other person in the conversation. So I work at staying in the moment, and it’s not always easy. But ultimately worth it.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deb, it was an aha moment learning that this approach (an attempt at “you’re not in it alone”) could be harmful to the conversation versus helpful. Sometimes it leaves me nothing to say, but I’m working on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi, Pat – I recently had coffee with an old friend. As usual, I walked away believing that the world would truly be a better place if she were running it. She is not boastful, not a yes person, nor is she an over-complimenter (“you look marvelous”). As I read over your list, it became very clear to me. She is authentically and genuinely empathetic and consistently acknowledges those around her without judgment. Without trying, she teaches how to be a great friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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