Okay, generous listeners, this one is for you.
In Take Charge of Your Talent, we make a big deal out of the distinction between a “Hero” story and a “Victim” story. Obviously we favor a hero story because it is filled with possibilities of how you can put your talent in play, not explanations and excuses of why you can’t.
And yet, when you listen to people in everyday situations, you are likely to hear a great many victim stories about how circumstances are responsible for results. These are often simple stories like, “Sorry I was late. There was a lot of traffic on I-64.” Sometimes they are more emotionally charged like, “I can’t believe she got the promotion instead of me. Everything is so political around here.” They can even turn into life-defining limiting beliefs like, “Nobody ever appreciates me.”
Victim stories, as human as they are, can have devilish impacts on our lives. Left unchecked they can become malignant agents that kill our hopes and swallow up opportunities before we can even recognize them.
Given this human situation, what’s the best way for a generous listener to relate to a victim story?
Well there are some obvious “no-nos.” Judging, belittling, fixing, and making fun of other people clearly do not fall under the heading of “generous.” All of these approaches are more likely to add credibility to the victim story rather than diffuse it.
If you’re reading this, it is likely that you have a generous spirit. Therefore, it’s critical to recognize that your ability to turn that spirit into supportive action often depends on recognizing the profound difference between sympathy and generous listening.
When you express sympathy you are communicating what you feel and think about his, or her, current situation. Sympathy might sound like:
I can’t believe that happened to you. Yes, you’re right; the politics are out of control.
Can you hear that, even though sympathy may come from a generous place, it still adds credibility to the victim story?
When you express non-judgmental generous listening, you are communicating to the other party that you appreciate, very specifically, what she, or he, might be feeling and thinking in this present moment. Non-judgmental generous listening might sound like:
I hear your disappointment. You’re concerned that people are being promoted for reasons that you feel aren’t related to their hard work.
Do you hear the difference? The generous listening gives the victim an opportunity to hear his or her story and reflect upon it without external judgment.
So if you’ve been exercising sympathy for the devil that is a victim story, try adopting the benefits of non-judgmental generous listening instead. If you attempt to convince someone to shift from victim to hero you are likely to experience strong resistance. Generous listening acknowledges what gave rise to the victim story in the first place: the real, human feelings and thoughts of the individual. It is in this place of true understanding that the grip of the victim story can begin to organically loosen and create an opportunity for the hero to reemerge. That’s the power of generous listening.
Photo by: mconnors