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ASK MERRILY/Parallel Stories

Merrily Preston
By Merrily Preston
Posted on Jun 03,2009
Filed Under Personal Development , Opinions,


What's the best way to offer feedback to a friend who, instead of responding to me personally, offers a parallel story from her life?  The exchanges leave me feeling flat.  I told her how the death of a baby had affected me, and she went on to tell about someone visiting from Illinois.

The truth is that I have sucked it up for years.  Our communication is usually long distance, but this summer we will be roommates for a weekend at a professional meeting!  Maybe face-to-face conversation will be better, but I'm already thinking that I'll go home early.

Dear Feeling Flat,

It is disheartening to speak of something important to a friend and get a story back in lieu of a personal response.  Why are ‘being heard and responded to’ omitted from your list of essential friendship qualities?

Many people communicate with parallel stories not realizing how it often leaves their listener feeling cut-off and not heard.  The stories can mimic the express and local lanes, preventing connection. In the right moment a parallel story can be quite meaningful, though.

Does your friend represent an important person who didn’t hear you?  Is ‘sucking it up’ an old pattern?  Your choices are to discontinue the friendship or to be with her as she is.  Her communication patterns are unlikely to change.

With a person who might learn to listen, encourage them by coming back to your story and asking for their response.  Eventually they may see that you value their feedback.  But always, the best teacher is your own example.  Mahatma Ghandi said, “We must become the change we want to see in the world.”  We must listen to be heard.

We can all remember a handful of people who listened to us from the heart (maybe not our therapists, friends or parents).  It is a profound, memorable experience.

Your weekend will be a rich opportunity to pay attention to what ‘not-being-heard’ brings up for you.  Notice where this issue has played out in your life, and be present with the familiar discomfort.  Breathe consciously.  Talk to people who listen.

Go home early if you need to.  You may relish the empowerment in walking away.

Please report back.

Merrily Preston is an Intentional Life Facilitator, who lives in Woodbridge. Her column is exclusive to Local Kicks. Email questions to, or use online form at

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