I had somewhat of an epiphany* yesterday while listening to someone complain about their computer-related problem to me. While I’m technically (no pun intended) in I.T., it seems people think I also have a degree in psychology.
I don’t, btw.
Something very interesting happens when people start telling you about their problems. They tell you much more than you need to know, or is in any way relevant to the situation at hand. While people are explaining what’s wrong with their computer, I am also given more detail about their current physical ailments and emotional state of well-being (or not so well-being) simultaneously than I could possibly retain.
Maybe it has to do with people’s uncomfortableness with technology. I’m not sure, but I would love for someone much smarter than me to do a study on this phenomenon, specifically to this type of situation. For now, I will examine it with my own unqualified eyes.
My Very Unscientific Opinion
I think it has a lot to do with our desire to reach out and connect with other people, so much so that we might not even realize we’re doing it. What became clear to me was while someone had my attention, they were going to take advantage of the opportunity by telling me everything they could while the moment lasted.
I’ve known for awhile, from personal experience in the last few years, that talking about your problems helps you deal with them. It might not do anything useful to solve them, except that it might help you think more clearly about them and eventually come to a solution more easily in the future. But, talking about them mostly just gives you a bit of relief from the inherent loneliness that comes with being the only person in your head.
We are subconsciously more desperate for human connection than we realize. I see it every day on Twitter, even in arguments that people have with complete strangers. In the empty spaces between the words exchanged, I also see people grasping for understanding, acknowledgement, and validation from even the most angry, bitter, and misunderstood person.
*I say “somewhat” (of an epiphany) because whenever that moment of realization happens, it feels more like a confirmation of something I’ve known all along than a new revelation.
In this particular case, it happened while I was walking back to my office. A brief moment of clarity, which eventually resolved to empathy for the person I was talking to.
It started soon after I left, when I couldn’t help but wonder why they had mentioned a specific, unrelated event (to the actual problem) at least three times that I could remember from our conversation. At first, I couldn’t help but become frustrated that, to me, it was nothing more than a distraction from being able to complete the task at hand.
And that’s when it hit me; the why: they were, probably unknowingly, reaching out to me in search of someone who would simply listen in hopes I could make them feel better.
I realized that this person might have no one else to talk to, or no one who would listen. I realized I might be the only person they had a chance to vent to that day so they were going to take full advantage of it while my job required me to be in their presence.
The Story Continues
Amazingly, later that same day I got a chance to redeem myself. It was with a different person, but I had found myself in almost the exactly same situation. Luckily, I was then self-aware enough the second time and realized what was happening soon enough to offer a simple response that I had heard the person and understood what they were saying.
I can only hope I can continue to respond in a helpful manner, or at least learn to listen with a more understanding ear. I have been a pseudo-psychologist for almost nine years now, and have already developed a reputation for listening to people and not making them feel stupid for the problems they’re having. But now, I have a clearer understanding of why people share more than is needed, at least for me.
Maybe it is exactly what is needed for them.