This is one of those small but significant areas I would urge you to think about. It is entirely possible you are unaware that you fall into this trap. Indeed when you read what it is I’m talking about you’ll see that a lack of self-awareness and mindfulness that generates this trap, almost assures you don’t know that you do it.
Why do we tell stories and share anecdotes? There are lots of reasons that include: to build rapport with the listener; to entertain; to highlight shared experiences; to help someone learn … all good so far … to show off; to trump the story the other person has told; to ensure we have airtime …not so great. But let’s stick with these stories that are generated from a position of positive intent, where in one form or another you want to help the other person either feel better, know more or build the relationship.
What do you think the effects on the relationship are when you start to tell a story that you have told someone before and that the person listening knows you have told them before? Even those who consider themselves normally high on patience can find the re-telling of stories and anecdotes by someone very tiresome. Even when we try our hardest to remember that a relationship isn’t “all about us” it is a challenge not to couple that with “it not all about you either!”.
The problem is that there is something at play here which can’t but affect us the listener and that is, that even subtly, your re-telling the story we’ve already heard can prompt the question about how much you value or are invested in any conversation we have. If you can’t remember that you’ve told me this story before – perhaps even often – then I think you can’t remember me either. And that’s not great for you, me or us.
In my job as an executive coach, one of the parts of my job I actually really like is that I need to reduce the effects of my ego on the relationship that I have with the client – it is all about them. I use this in my everyday life when people tell me stories, jokes and anecdotes I’ve heard before; I don’t judge the person for their re-telling. However, in a busy working environment where egos are very much in evidence, I’m not sure people would be so forgiving.
No you can’t minimise the effect
I hear a number of people try to excuse this re-telling trait by prefacing their story with “stop me if I’ve told you this”. The goal being to give you permission to stop them before they re-tell the anecdote you’ve already heard several times. In fact that little “stop me” trick only serves to highlight several things which I think make things worse not better:
- The teller has just announced formally they have no idea what we’ve spoken about in the past
- The fact that despite the point above, they’re going to give this story another airing anyway
- That whilst I now have permission to stop you, most social mores would suggest that to do so would be rude, so really I’ve been manipulated to listen and not to stop you
What to do
I think part of the challenge is the old chestnut that “there is so much information” available to us and for us to remember it all can be difficult. The same is true when it comes to remembering all the conversations – both real and on-line – that we have had. So, how can you help avoid falling into this trap:
- Ask more than tell
- Keep your own stories more current. If you have a point you are asked for help on regularly, update the example that you use to something more recent. Do this regularly and there’s less chance of repeating yourself
- Make a note at the end of meetings and include the topics that you discussed and the examples you used. A simple piece of software such as Evernote makes this easy (No affiliation)
- Be more mindful and aware whilst having conversations. Listen more attentively and do so without constantly looking out for your chance to share your stories. Enjoy the chance to understand more about the person you are communicating with.
- If you are unsure whether you fall into this trap, ask someone with whom you have a great relationship … so great in fact that they’ll tell you the truth about whether this is an issue or not.
Glenn Wallis is an experienced Executive Coach and Coach Developer who will help you improve your own results and those of your organisation. When you are ready to raise your performance to the next level, find out more here.