When NOT To Tell Your Own Story

by Stephen Boyd | August 15, 2004

In public speaking one of the ways to be successful is to learn to tell your own story. In interpersonal communication, however, you will be seen as an excellent conversationalist if you resist telling your own story! Instead, let the other person tell his or her story and then find out more about the person in the story by asking questions and affirming his or her narrative.

When someone tells us a story in conversation, it is human nature that we can?t wait until he or she finishes to tell our own story and usually it is a bigger and more dramatic story than the other person. We in essence say, "You think that story is significant, but mine is better!" That is not the way to earn respect and rapport with the other person. Instead, when a person relates a personal experience to you, resist the temptation to tell your own "more significant" story and instead listen carefully, nod your head, and include an appropriate "wow," or "That had to be difficult." Then when the person pauses, instead of launching into your own story, ask a follow up question. "How did you feel when that happened?" or "What happened after that?"

No matter how desperately you want to tell your story, if you shift the center of attention to you, the other person will feel slighted. You will have lost some sense of connectedness with the other person no matter how great your story is.

By resisting the urge to tell your own story in response to the other person?s story, you will be seen as a good listener and one who is really interested in people. It is my experience in watching people that this habit is one of the most difficult to master and one which will immediately put you in the upper ranks of people who communicate well one-on-one.

Learning to talk less and listen more in conversation, not telling your own story, and encouraging the person to elaborate on his or her story will make you be seen as a pleasant and desirable conversationalist.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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