whenever i’m talking to someone and they tell me about something that happened to them i always tell them about something that happened to me that’s similar to what happened to them. i do it as kind of a “oh hey yeah this happened to me so i can relate to what you’re going through” but i’m always afraid it comes out as “oh yeah well this happened to me so clearly i have it tougher than you” or “i’m done talking about you let’s talk about me”
i swear i don’t mean it like that……..
I run into this a lot with my job – so instead of telling the whole story I say something like, “Oh my gosh, I had something REALLY similar happen. What did you do after that??” And I’ve found that works. Usually they explain and then ask, “So what happened to you?” And then you’re invited to share, and the formula for conversing continues on. 🙂
of all the tumblr posts i’ve read, this one is going to change my life the fastest lol.
Thanks to both the OP for posting a thing that so many of us do, and the responder who gave us a better way to do it. You’re doing the lord’s work, my friend!
Fun fact: there isn’t anything wrong with you if you do what OP is describing.
Deborah Tannen’s work focuses on different conversational styles — the sets of behavioral norms and expectations that we bring with us to conversations. In one of her earlier articles, she describes two conflicting conversational styles that exist in the US.
One, which she (perhaps inaccurately) dubs “New York Jewish conversational style,” is based on the principle of building camaraderie with one’s interlocutor. The other, which she doesn’t really name but which we could call “mainstream American conversational style,” is based on the principle of not imposing on one’s interlocutor.
Each conversational style has its own behavioral norms. Mainstream American conversational style involves things like asking your interlocutor questions about him/herself and waiting until your interlocutor is clearly finished speaking until you say something. These demonstrate a focus on one’s interlocutor and a clear resistance to imposing. NYJ conversational style involves things like conversational overlaps — speaking at the same time as one’s interlocutor — and “swapping stories.” These demonstrate a high level of engagement with one’s interlocutor. Conversationalists using the mainstream American style make space for each other; conversationalists using the New York Jewish style carve out their own space.
Each of these conversational styles works well when the two people conversing have the same style. Imagine two friends meeting for drinks after work:
“Oh, hello! How was your trip here?”
“Oh, it was awful. There was so much traffic on the turnpike.”
“I know. How was your trip?”
“Well, there was an accident on the bridge.”
“Oh no! Was there a big backup?”
“Yeah, pretty big.”
“Hey! Ugh, sorry I’m late, there was so much traffic on the turnpike—”
“Oh my god, I know, there was an accident on the bridge and the cars were backed up a MILE—”
“That is the worst, I remember one time I sat in traffic for an HOUR waiting to get through that toll, they really should—”
“Add more EZ-pass lanes, right?”
“Add more lanes, yeah, exactly.”
Both of these conversations worked: the participants feel that they’ve had their say and that they’ve been understood. They feel connected to their interlocutor.
But when people with conflicting conversational styles converse, that’s where things go wrong. Because we interpret other people’s contributions according to our own conversational style. So the person with mainstream American conversational style comes away thinking “Why did they keep interrupting me? Why didn’t they ask me any questions about me? Why were they so loud and emotional?” And the person with the New York Jewish conversational style comes away thinking “Why were they so disengaged? They didn’t seem involved in the conversation at all. They didn’t even offer any personal information.”
Rather, they would come away thinking that, except that we’re taught growing up that the first example conversation up there is what conversations should look like. So the person with the New York Jewish conversational style actually comes away from the conversation thinking “oh my god, what was I doing? I kept talking about myself. I think I kept interrupting them. I am so rude, god, I’m the worst.” When in fact: a) it’s about cultural difference, not individual moral qualities; and b) one conversational style isn’t inherently “better” than another.
Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t attempt to bridge the gap between conversational styles, as suggested above. But we should be aware that:
TL;DR: Cultural difference is often mistaken for individual moral failings.