I was at a party recently when a friend mentioned that he was recovering from kidney stones.
A woman in the group immediately chimed in saying how terrible it must have been and, gosh, how painful. And then, for fifteen minutes, she narrated the tale of how she had kidney stones two years ago and was flat on her back for three days but somehow managed to meet the deadlines on all her projects and how she was the kind of person who never let illness get in the way of what needed to be done but this was really touch and go and her doctor told her that her stones were way bigger and more painful than any he had seen before and she never wanted anyone to suffer as she had.
I think it was fifteen minutes. I had drifted away into my to-do list long before she finished.
Try this experiment. Closely observe conversations in social gatherings. See how often someone says something and someone else jumps in with his opinion and what happened to him and what the other person should do.
The lady in my anecdote believed that she was being sympathetic and helpful. She acknowledged the speaker’s ailment and commiserated with his pain.
How do I know she believed she was being sympathetic and helpful? Because she told me so.
Marshall Goldsmith, my good friend and a renowned executive coach, cautions against ‘adding too much value.’ Say someone on your team comes up with an idea. You applaud her and suggest how it could be improved. Your suggestion may have improved the idea by ten percent. But her enthusiasm goes down by half or more. Whether you like it or not, you have ‘stolen’ her idea.
I will readily grant good intentions. But, underneath that, the person making the suggestion was – consciously or otherwise – making it all about himself.
You probably do this yourself. You are just not aware of how much you do.
After you finish the experiment I recommended above, try another.
Observe yourself in the same type of situation and count how many times you use the words ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘my’.
Cut this figure by 50% and watch your relationships improve.