Early in my ministry there was a homebound man who I periodically visited. He was a nice man, but after a couple of visits I dreaded having to go back, because the visits were always the same. I would come in, sit down, and ask the magic question, “So how are you doing?” He then proceeded to give me what became known as the “organ recital”- an hour long, body system by body system detailed rundown of his health. His list of maladies was longer than my arm, and once he got going, there was no stopping him. It happened every visit.
We all know folks like that, don’t we? They might not give you an organ recital, but they have a quality or habit that makes them someone you wouldn’t exactly ask over for dinner. They are kind the people that we don’t want to be.
I’ve given this topic some thought, and I came up with a short list of the kind of person I don’t want to be. Here’s my list, and I’m sure you can develop a list of your own. In no particular order…
The Constant Advice-Giver
There’s nothing wrong with giving advice. I give advice on a regular basis. But from experience, unsolicited advice can often be irritating, especially when someone isn’t looking for advice. There are times when people just want to talk through a situation or problem. They’re looking for clarity. They want to process thoughts out loud. I’ve come to appreciate friends who ask before advising. A simple question such as “Are you looking for advice here, or are you looking to talk things out?” can keep you from treading where you aren’t yet invited. If I’m sincerely interested in helping people without giving advice, I should learn how to ask good questions.
The Know It All
These folks not only have answers to every question, they are convinced that their answers are always the right answers. There’s nothing wrong with being smart or being right, but people are put off by those who will not consider the possibility that they are wrong. I was in a conversation with someone like this, and I became so exasperated that I asked them to share with me the last time they were wrong about something. As of this morning, I’m still waiting for their answer.
The “It’s All About Me”
A couple of weeks ago, my assistant told me I had a phone call. I said hello and didn’t speak again for 45 minutes. I’m not exaggerating. Toward the end, I began to measure their breaths, looking for a chance to break in and end the agony. I would occasionally try to interrupt, but for the most part, it was a complete one-sided conversation. I’m still a little fuzzy about why they called me.
Sometimes it is right to talk about ourselves. But a conversation is unsatisfying to all involved if there isn’t a chance for everyone to contribute.
The “I Can Top That One”
I was involved in a group conversation, listening to someone tell a story of losing their luggage on a trip overseas. The moment the story ended, another person in the group piped up by saying, “Well, when I was overseas…” launching into a story of their own where they topped the experiences of the previous speaker. As the second person was droning on, I carefully watched the face of the first speaker. At first their face fell, then their eyes rolled, and then they walked away.
People’s stories are personal, and sharing them is a way of sharing parts of themselves. When they do, I should honor them by allowing their stories to stand on their own.
The Wet Blanket
Remember Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh? He’s a wet blanket. To wet blankets, nothing will go right. Something’s wrong with everything. It won’t work. It’s too difficult. We’ll never get back in time. Everything is negative.
I get it that things don’t always go smoothly. Sometimes planning just doesn’t go as planned. But I should at least wait until something has failed before I pronounce it’s doom.
Please understand that I’m not making fun of anyone, and I’m certainly not trying to be mean. If I have come across that way, I apologize. But these are the kinds of people that we don’t want others to perceive us to be. I know you don’t want to be labeled as a know-it all. It would hurt if you knew that people considered you to be a wet blanket. My point is to be aware of how we interact with other people, so that when people are in our company they enjoy their time with us.
Is there a person type you would add to the list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.