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No. 10 – Sharing Experiences to Express Feelings

December 22, 2010

In previous posts we have reviewed the importance of hearing and responding to feelings as a factor in successful communications. Men, in particular, however, are often not comfortable sharing feelings. On the other hand, they generally feel OK about sharing experiences. The practice of trading stories (war stories) is a way of indirectly expressing feelings.

Sharing stories of our experiences (or that of others) is a common pastime that we call conversation. When we sit with someone at work during lunch or a coffee break, it seems natural to share a recent experience, a past experience, or some news event. As you listen to the other person’s story, three responses may come to your mind.

First, the story may remind you of a similar or related story from your own experience. You then listen for when the other person has finished as a signal to share your story. In turn, your story reminds the other person of another experience, or suggests further elaboration on the original story, and the conversation proceeds. Trading stories is a way of meeting an unspoken need to have feelings heard. The basic assumption is that if the other person has shared a similar experience then he must also have experienced the same feeling. Therefore, he must know your feelings.

The second response that may occur to you is the question, “Why are you telling me this story?” Have you ever wondered why someone is taking your time to tell you a story that may not seem relevant or appropriate? Whenever you find yourself puzzled by someone’s story, ask yourself, “What are they really trying to say?” What feeling are they attempting to share or express? You may find it helpful to remind yourself that the story is only a vehicle to share a feeling and the context or content of the story is only marginally relevant.

Your third reaction to their story may be annoyance or frustration. You may not find the story interesting or relevant to anything you care about. you may be especially frustrated when you realize that the person is repeating their story for the third or fourth time. Have you wondered why people keep repeating their stories? The reason is because you have not yet heard the feeling they are trying to express. Once you hear and respond to the feeling (not the story itself), then there is no need to tell the story again.

Sharing stories is a low risk way to express feelings. However, the probability may also be low for someone to hear and respond to the feelings.

  1. jean staton permalink

    We all need to take the time and listen. As has been said, telling stories is a way to express feelings. I have been raised around boys and now work in a predominantly male business and I find myself relating stories instead of actually expressing feelings. It’s safe way of sharing.

    I hope you all have a Merry Christmas, Great New Year, Happy Holiday, etc., whichever way you phrase it, just be safe. And when someone starts telling “old war stories” take the time to stop and listen

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