How to Engage Someone's Story

Sheryl Jacob   |   August 22, 2023 

We all have a story.  We are all unique individuals with a story to tell.  Each of us has a personal history filled with experiences, relationships, and emotions that have shaped who we are today.  These stories can be filled with joy, suffering, grief, and failures. However, despite our differences, our stories are what make us relatable to one another.

Here are three reasons why it is essential to engage someone's story.

First and foremost, engaging with someone's story allows us to see them as fellow image-bearers of God.  The Bible tells us that every human being is created in God's image and has inherent worth and value (Genesis 1:26-28).  When we take the time to listen to someone's story, we are not just hearing about their experiences but also acknowledging their worth and dignity as a human being.

Second, engaging with someone's story can help bring healing and restoration.  Jesus was known for His ability to connect with people on a deeper level.  He saw their struggles, fears, and longings and spoke truth and grace into their lives.  Jesus did not just see people as problems to solve or projects to fix; He saw them as beloved children of God who needed healing and restoration.

Third, we can offer comfort and encouragement when we listen to someone's pain.  We can offer them forgiveness and grace when we hear someone's shame.  And when we see someone is hurting, we can offer them hope and support.

While we understand the importance of engaging with people's stories, sometimes we don't know how or what to do or say. Here are eight practical tips on what to do and not do when engaging someone's story:

1. Be completely present.

One of the fastest ways to disengage someone's story is to appear distracted or distant.  Get rid of any distractions, such as your phone or computer, and stay focused on the person in front of you.  Eye contact, body language, nodding, and other gestures prove that you are actively participating in the conversation, which helps establish trust and safety.

2. Listen actively and with compassion.

Active listening entails giving your full attention to the speaker and attempting to understand their experiences from their perspective.  It means focusing on what the speaker is saying without interrupting, judging, or giving unsolicited advice.  As they speak, try to understand their feelings, thoughts, and perceptions of the event or experience.  By showing empathy, we can help individuals feel heard and understood, which can be a powerful force in building trust and fostering healing.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Asking open-ended questions brings curiosity and interest to the discussion, allowing the speaker to share more about their experiences.  Try asking questions such as "How did that make you feel?" or "Can you tell me more about how that happened?" Then listen intently to the answer and ask follow-up questions that get more specific.

4. Use stories to connect.

Sharing a little about your life experiences can make the speaker feel less alone and more comfortable sharing more about their own lives.  Use discretion when sharing and ensure it's appropriate and beneficial beforehand.  Stories can also unite people and foster a deep sense of community and belonging.

5. Don't be quick to offer advice.

Offering unsolicited advice or trying to fix their problem can sometimes prolong and worsen the situation.  Listen and empathise with what the speaker is going through without judging or trying to resolve the issue.  Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is offer encouragement and support.

6. Affirm them.

Affirming their journey and acknowledging their courage can be powerful, regardless of how big or little it seems.  Acknowledge their honesty, bravery, or strength, and compliment them, encouraging them to keep going.

7. Be Prayerful.

This type of engagement requires prayer.  It's a space to hear and make Christ's heart known to someone else and attuning your ear to hear from the Holy Spirit.  The best opportunity to encourage the speaker is not when they finish but when the discussion is happening.

8. Show grace.

Showing grace is how we mirror the character of Christ and facilitate the possibility of repentance and healing.  It reminds us that Christ has demonstrated lavish grace to us, and we can do the same to others.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to love others well, and engaging with their stories is one tangible way we can do that.  May we be people who listen well, empathise deeply, and extend the love and grace of Jesus Christ to others.



Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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Sheryl Jacob

Sheryl Jacob is a follower of Jesus, wife to Sujith, and mom of 3 (Elijah, Ezra and Anaya). She is also a Marriage and Family Therapist. She thoroughly enjoys hosting competitive game nights, listening to podcasts and is passionate about teaching Therapeutic workshops. Sheryl is now a Third Culture Adult serving Jesus through Cornerstone Church Mumbai, India.

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