Here’s the Situation: Okay, I was complaining. I was describing a frustrating situation at work with a professional friend. I had had a rough day and needed to vent before I dusted myself off for the next day.
Here’s the Stupid Mistake: I’d barely finished my story before my friend began with a story of her own. She delved into details of her own challenges and frustrations at work. I’ve heard the behavior described this way: “She stepped on my story.” As a result, I felt “cut off.” At the end of the encounter, I felt worse than at the beginning–because my friend did not listen to me or offer understanding.
People step on the stories of their conversation partners all the time. For example, we step on stories of success, failure, frustration, illness, relationships, etc. At minimum, this mistake makes for an unpleasant conversation because the person who initiates the conversation doesn’t feel listened to. If you make a habit of stepping on stories, you run the risk of being judged insensitive, self-centered, and even narcissistic.
Here’s the Solution: A good listener allows a speaker to fully finish his or her story, acknowledging both the details of the story and the feeling behind it. Once the original speaker feels acknowledged and understood, it can be appropriate for the listener to share a similar story of his or her own. This builds a common ground–but only once the original story has had the opportunity to stand on its own.