Relating or Upping?

We’ve all been there. Either we’re telling a story or the other person is, and immediately after it’s finished, one of us jumps in with our tale connected to what was just shared. But are we doing so in a spirit of relating and improving the bond between us? Or is it a ploy to one-up the other’s story with our “better” experience?

A recent Facebook/twitter share on this dilemma brought back memories of both enduring this insensitive communication exchange and my own guilty-as-charged when committing the same faux pas.

It’s a communication moment that’s always irritated me. When I’ve told the story first and was immediately one-upped, I felt ignored and belittled. The worst cases made me feel like they were immediately applying a quick coat of paint over my story so they could share their (better) story on a fresh canvas.

Most of us probably think, despite how it’s delivered, that it helps connect with the other person through a commonality or even empathy. More often, though, it’s a demeaning behavior and signals you really weren’t listening to everything they said.

I can remember long ago when I first tuned into this situation and could sometimes see in the other person’s eyes that moment when they connected to a topic or item with their own memory, and from then on their body language changed to one of “can’t wait to tell my (better) story.”

Not meaning to be too harsh on either party, but it seems to happen frequently without awareness of the impact. With some, however, it happened every time I talked to them. I think a solution is not to stop trying to relate by bonding through commonalities or showing empathy through similar experiences, but change how we do it.

Truth is, I still catch myself doing this poorly, but overall I’m much better than I used to be, so clearly still a work in progress. I’ve found that I need to smother my inner excitement to tell my related tale and instead take time to talk about what they’ve just shared, ask questions, show my interest or concern for what THEY said/experienced. Once that’s happened, if still important, I can tell my tale. It’s almost as if we should develop an autonomic waiting period before our minds wind up our memory banks and spin back our connected versions. This approach would give the original storyteller time to feel appreciated and acknowledged.

And yes, of course this is quite difficult to pull off! Who doesn’t hear something that triggers our own experience in the same place or situation and is eager to share back?

All this is purely my own insights and theories about this type of less-than-ideal communication exchange and how it could be better. In my experiences it didn’t make any difference whether they were friends, I just met them, or corporate acquaintances: it happened across all types.

Next time you’re in this situation, check yourself when wanting to share back a related experience from your past. So long as you first honor the other person’s telling properly, then your sharing can honestly be about relating and bonding, and hopefully doesn’t land as one-upping.

One Response

  1. Hi, Gary. I can REALLY relate to what you say here, on both sides. My family always did this, so I learned to do it, but I’ve been trying to UN-LEARN it for years, and often succeed. My sisters, when I bring it up, say, “Well, we’re having a CONVERSATION!!” But we really aren’t. Because their minds are waiting to jump in. I saw a t-shirt once that said it perfectly (for my family) . . . “I’ll stop interrupting when you take a breath . . . ”

    Good useful post today. Hope you are well.

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