I’m listening, I promise.
Let’s go over a scenario where we’re having a conversation. You got in a crash today, and are telling me the details about it. Another car ran you off the road and as you switched lanes, BOOM! They pushed you right into another car. As soon I feel like your story is wrapping up, I say something like this; I can’t believe that happened to you. I got in a crash just like that last week, but instead of two cars there were three! Blah blah blah……it was just like yours but way worse.
There’s a good chance the conversation got a little awkward or you felt off-put by my story. But why? I was only trying to relate to you by telling you a similar story. I was showing we’ve had similar experiences so we could bond over it and deepen our relationship. Why would that potentially hamper the spirit of the conversation?
Our stories compete for attention.
There are a couple reasons. The first is that you’ve just related an emotional experience and you may not be done talking about it. If you’ve had a traumatic experience like in our example, it’s likely there’s a lot on your mind. When I interject my story, you may feel as though I’m moving the spotlight away from your experience and towards mine. Even if it’s not a conscious thought on my part, it won’t feel great for you.
Launching directly into my story may also give you the impression I’m not listening or don’t care about your experience. Without furthering my understanding of your situation and jumping into my own experience, I could easily give off the impression I only care about what happens to me. Even if that’s not true, failing to get a deeper grasp on your experience shows I’m more interested in sharing than listening.
I just want to relate with my better story!
Another reason the conversation could go south is that you feel like I’m trying to one up you. That may not have been my intention, I may have merely said the first relevant experience that came to mind. When you’re telling me a story, however, and I bring out another, bigger, story – it can easily create the impression I’m trying to one up you. That’s not so impressive, listen to this.
You’ve already decided the story was important enough to you to share, though. If I bring up a grander story, I’m basically marginalizing your experience by saying an experience I’ve had is more engaging than yours. If I do this consistently, it won’t be long before you stop telling me stories. You’ll know I’ll just bring up another, bigger story.
How to Prevent Seeming Like A One-Upper
Let’s cover a few ways to combat these potential impressions and make sure you can still share your material. First, before getting into your own narrative, ask questions about the other person’s experience. So, what happened with the car that ran you off the road, did they just keep going? Did the guy you hit see any of it? That way, you’ve giving the other person space to vent out any emotions or topics they want to cover, while simultaneously proving that you’re listening.
When you tell one of your stories, link specific pieces of it back to their original story. When I got in my crash, the airbag didn’t even come out! I thought I was going to die. Did it come out for you? This will keep the other person engaged and, again, prove that you actually care about their story. Instead of thinking you’re trying to one up them, they’ll see the natural connections in your experience.
You can still tell your stories to people.
I’m not saying to never tell anyone when you have similar experiences. I’m only warning you to be aware of how you’re coming across when speaking to people. What may seem like trying to relate, may come across as trying to one up the other person with a more powerful story if you’re not careful. As much as possible, ask questions about the experience and get a further understanding before jumping into your own narrative.
When you pay attention to these things, it shows the other person you care about what they’re saying. In creating positive conversations, showing you care is an absolute must. When you prove you care about their thoughts, you communicate that you care about the person themselves. When people feel cared about, they walk away feeling better and, interestingly enough, liking you better as well.
Natural conversation is more important than trying to be perfect.
Don’t let these ideas overwhelm your natural flow of conversation. If you focus too hard on trying to be perfect, you’ll reduce genuine self-expression. This can negatively impact the conversation as well. The points I bring up are mainly to increase your self-awareness and illustrate a few guidelines. It’s not meant to cover every situation and dictate all your behaviors.
Finally, try to remember, intent means nothing and perception means everything. Individuals don’t know your intent unless they see it or hear it. Even then, it’s open to interpretation, so you have to communicate as clearly as possible. By keeping how you present yourself top of mind, it’s more likely you’ll communicate effectively and have more positive interactions.
ANSWER THE EXERCISE IN THE COMMENTS:
1. Think of a time you felt someone was trying to one up you. Why do you think they did that?
2. Think of at least one conversation where sharing your story may have come across as one upmanship.