People build friendships through stories. If you can get a person to tell you, even a little bit of their story, you have an excellent opportunity to build a friendship. It is through these stories that we discover who people are - what they are like and what we have in common with them. If we will listen, we will earn trust and a second chance to build this new friendship. Ignore the story - and they will dismiss you like the hundreds of other people who don't want to hear it either.
What do you need to be listening for in the story? First of all, everything! Some stories are told like a well written novel. Other stories are like watching a NASCAR race. You will hear the same thing over and over and over. Some stories are a jigsaw puzzle. Keep listening long enough and a picture will begin to emerge.
Ask honest, but simple questions. Along the way. Let them know that you are interested in their story and that you want to keep it straight. As a general rule, they will volunteer more information just because you asked.
Storytelling is never convenient for you. They story may start over dinner, just as you are finishing dessert. The next 2 and half hours are now gone and you're past your bed time. The cashier is desperate to talk to someone, a friendly face coupled with, "How's your day going?" unleashes a flood of information that backs up the checkout line. I am convinced that these interruptions are from God. He needed you in that place and that time to make that connection for Him.
Discover how you fit into the story. For what reason are they talking to you? Do they think you can offer them some help? Some advise? Some kind of support? Most people who tell you their story simply want you to listen. On rare occasion are they purposefully looking for something tangible.
Be careful what you nod your head to. Showing interest can be misunderstood as agreement. For example, I got a nasty phone call from a husband (who was less than nice) about how I thought that He was an awful spouse. I never said it - I never wrote it down - I didn't even know him. But a few hours earlier, while his wife was sharing her story to me about him, I remember nodding my head up and down as a gesture for my participation in the conversation. I wasn't agreeing with her. Yikes that was a mess.
It's their stories and they believe it. But it doesn't mean that they are accurate. The old saying goes, history is written by the victors. People, as a general rule, will not drag every skeleton out of their closet when they first meet you. As such for a young man who I knew for a few months before he told me he had been released from prison. It didn't matter, but it sure didn't come up the first time we met.
Stories are on going. It's up to you to get updates from time to time. It's called friendship. Now the squeaky wheel gets the grease. When someone is going through a rough patch, we care enough to get updates. But don't forget the people who are seemingly quite. There is something going on - you just have to ask.