“Do I Really Need to Hear This?”

In 2013, I was having lunch with a colleague of mine who used to work for me in the department I ran. A few months earlier she’d moved to a new department and so now had a new boss.

She reminded me of something she’d told me earlier — that in talking to her new boss, she got the impression that he didn’t like me very much. But he never told her exactly why. And that bothered her. As a student of human behavior, she was genuinely curious as to why.

Well, apparently since the last time we’d spoken, she found out why. And at lunch that day she was eager to share what she’d learned. But in the middle of her first sentence, I interrupted her and said,

Do I really need to hear this?

She looked only slightly more surprised to hear that than I was that I’d said it. I just kind of blurted it out. But then I went on to ask her, “Is it some deep character flaw I need to be made aware of so I can fix it?”

“No,” she said.

“Is it something I did that I need to apologize to him for?”

“No, definitely not that.”

“Something about the way I do my job that I should do better?”

“No.”

“So, it’s just something about me this guy doesn’t like?”

She thought about that for a moment and said, “Yeah, just something he doesn’t like.”

“Then if you tell me, I’m probably just going to feel bad or self-conscious about it. In which case, I think I’d rather not know.”

We both smiled at what we each considered a good decision. I was happy she’d gotten her curiosity satisfied by knowing the answer. And she was happy that she didn’t burden me with knowing it. We continued our conversation about something else.

So, if you find yourself in my position (or Mandy’s), remember that you don’t have to let someone share that kind of information with you. You can ask your friend to not share it unless it’s important that you know. If they’re a good friend, they’ll be happy to be interrupted.

Now, as with all of these stories, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. What does it mean to “burden” someone with knowing something?
  2. What if someone didn’t like you because of something you couldn’t change about yourself? Would you want to know what it was, or not?
  3. What if you could change it? Would you answer differently?
  4. What are some good reasons to know something about you that
    someone else doesn’t like?

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Source: Parenting with a Story: Real-life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share, by Paul Smith.

PAS square profile Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a StoryParenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.

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