It’s Not About You

A few years ago my house was burglarized. I was terribly upset at the theft of a few hugely sentimental items.  The next day at my place of work I had colleagues coming into my office all day to commiserate.  In most cases, within seconds, I was hearing about a theft that had happened to them or one of their relatives. “ Hey”, I was thinking to myself, “this isn’t about you, it’s about my loss.”

Have you noticed if you tell someone about a recent diagnosis of yours or someone close to you that you frequently end up listening to a comparative story?  Their mother/father/sister/cousin had a similar thing, oftentimes worse.  Hey, this isn’t about you, it’s about my diagnosis, you may have been thinking.

I wonder if our friends and colleagues are simply trying to find common ground (and their comfort zone?), show that they can relate to the ordeal and therefore share their horror stories.  Poor timing.  This is the time to listen.  This is not the time to share upsetting stories or attempt to one up with the sad stories.

Appropriate responses to some scenarios would be:

  • “I’ll cover your calls so you can deal with the insurance company uninterrupted.”
  • “How about I take your kids to the museum this weekend with mine so you can spend all day…?”
  • Offer concrete ways you can help rather than “Let me know if I can help.”  You most likely won’t hear a request.
  •  Resist the temptation to tell comparative tales.
  • Resist the temptation to give unsolicited advice.

We’ve all been in these situations, most likely both sides of these situations. When hearing about someone’s tragedy there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Listen.
  2. It’s not about you.

About etiquetteottawa

Founder and Owner of the Protocol School Of Ottawa
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7 Responses to It’s Not About You

  1. Alessandro says:

    I can extend something you wrote.
    ANY time that some one has an advice, please ASK if you can give the advice and leave to the other person to accept it or not. Sometimes is not the right moment, sometimes there is no space to accept the advice. As Suzanne says in this post, it’s not about you , it about the person who’s in difficulty.

    • So true Alessandro. Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome. We just have to think how we feel when someone tries to give us advice. Thanks for your comments.

      • Alessandro says:

        This comes from my direct experience: I was very angry when someone gave me advice sometime (I wasn’t ready for that and it wasn’t useful at all in that moment). Than I discovered that I made the same mistake and now I can stop myself and ask permission: I’ve found that this works very well 🙂
        Thank you for this Post Suzanne and for your kind reply 🙂

  2. @amwaters says:

    This is a great post Suzanne. And timeless. And transcends topic boundaries. I think we need to be reminded often about this as listening is a learned gift. It was nice of you to remind us not to be too, too hard on someone that ‘shares’ in return. In these hurried and stressful times, the time of human contact is a precious commodity. There may be a temptation to ‘share’ the listening time. Especially if there is context. Really important context that needs to be mined. It’s funny you use the phrase “It’s not about you.” Because sometimes I feel that it is. In the way of perspective. Sure my house got broken into, but my best friend’s Mom just died. As I go through my ‘crap’, I find I am at risk of not taking the time to listen to someone else talk about their ‘crap’. Sometimes it’s not about me.

  3. Very good points, Suzanne. Also, don’t ask too many questions. Allow the person to share what they want and leave it at that. Invasive questions can be very offensive.

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