We’ve all been around a child as they describe, IN DETAIL, an exciting event in their life. Everything is exaggerated. The wave was 10 feet tall, and the fish was the size of a whale, and their hand was SO CLOSE to the fish’s JAWS! We get just as excited as we’re listening! We laugh and gasp in fear right along with them.
It is quite a different story when our adult friends, family members, and coworkers exaggerate in a disagreement with us. We go absolutely nuts! We immediately shut the conversation down and deny, deny, deny. “I do NOT leave the cabinet doors open ALL the time!” Sound familiar??
With the child, we allow ourselves to be taken on an experiential ride. We empathize with the child’s joy, wonder, fear, and excitement as they tell their story. Even though we know the details are way out of whack.
This kind of empathy would suit us well in our adult interactions. When someone exaggerates in a disagreement or argument, what they are expressing is that they are exasperated, frustrated, and think they are not going to be listened to or taken seriously.
We wouldn’t crouch to the floor and sternly tell the child, “No! The wave was only 2 feet tall and that fish was no bigger than your hand!”
But that is exactly what we do when our adult colleagues, friends, and loved ones exaggerate. We tell them, “No!”
We let the child convey their experience and we react to that. And we tell our partners, friends, and loved ones, “I won’t hear your experience until you get the facts right.”
I’m not advocating fake news here or disregarding facts. But, most often when we are dealing in interpersonal relationships, what we need to do is understand the other’s experience of an event first, not the nitty-gritty details. When we focus on the misrepresented and exaggerated details, we miss out on what the person in front of us is experiencing (their thoughts, feelings, and emotions). Coming back at them like a fact-checker is missing the point entirely.
Once you understand the experience the other is having, and relate to them on that level, you can go back and correct any of the exaggerations or misrepresentations. It’s far more important that you create connection than have an accurate tally of who has shut the cabinet doors more often. Don’t you agree?
Also, stop exaggerating in your arguments; no one likes it 😄