Every single body, each individual human, wants to tell their story.

We each want to feel the way we feel and be appreciated for it, to be empathized with, and to feel listened to.  Though we may accept guidance, coaching, and advice, it’s always better for our growth when those epiphanies reveal themselves to us via our own processing and our own ideas and ideals. 

Every single day, we’re working so hard to feel heard and to make a difference in a noisy, crowded, transparent, communication-laden world that we focus all of our energy on being brilliant.  For those that we love, we think “active communication” looks like expressing our opinions on their situation, instead of creating a mirror for their experience.  

It’s way too easy to bring responses to other people’s statements back to how we feel or how we perceive the situation, which removes the limelight from them and sheds it on our hungry little egos.  In an individualistic and global culture of selfies, self- publishing, and unanchored attempts at personal brand —  this pattern of communication is more the rule than the exception.

Here’s what usually happens.

Person 1: ” I got a new job!  I am so excited.” 

Person 2: ” I am so proud of you and I am so happy for you! Congratulations!”

The emotional weight sits with the person receiving the news and their perception of the situation and puts the priority on their reaction. The person offering their news may quietly feel diminished or coached by the person listening to them. Or even if they only process on a surface level, the attention has now shifted to the receiver, and with it, all of the energy and momentum of the conversation. 

But what if we did it this way?

Person 1: ” I got a new job! I am so excited.” 

Person 2: ” I can see how happy you are and how much this means to you. Congratulations!”

The focus is entirely on the experience of the second person and the way the positive change is affecting them for the better.  They are and remain the sole focus of the conversation.  They may feel empowered to say more about their experience then they had originally planned for, and this might be an opportunity they don’t often get.  Their ownership of the series of events is validated.  They get to sit with their feelings and feel completely supported with the authenticity of what they are feeling, not their perception of what another person needs to receive.  The bring all of the thunder, and their listener brings the light.

A lot of our mindfulness comes with practice, and truly thoughtful listening is an art.  By letting people tell their stories and owning every piece of that, we open ourselves to the opportunity to learn from them.  We can sit with the way that their perspective is different from ours.  We can experience happiness with them and not in front of them or “for” them.  We get to elevate them and encourage them to celebrate.  

These three steps help you focus your attention on the other person: 

  1. Slow down any response to someone else’s story or news and give them room to express everything they are thinking.  Count to 5 before responding.  
  2.  Use active listening and responsive body language to reflect your understanding of their thoughts and feel free to ask probing questions to gain more detail about their experience.  
  3. Make sure that your whole response reflects what they are thinking and feeling and not your reaction to their story. 

When we are great listeners, people automatically want to give us the respect we have generated for them.  We learn differently, we gain respect, and people want to bring us their truths.

When you don’t steal the thunder, your brilliance is subtle but generous and your intent is inferred and understood instead of explained.  

Be the light.