When It's Okay Or Not To Say "The Same Thing Happened To Me" In Conversations
If someone is telling you about something they've been through, perhaps a challenge that came up at work, and you've had a similar experience, it's often a natural impulse to want to say, "Yeah, the same thing happened to me." You'd like to show you understand what they're dealing with, and that you have some common ground.
However, people can worry it's not appropriate to mention they've gone through the same events as someone. They've heard it's a conversation mistake. Even if they have good intentions, they may hesitate because they think by bringing up their own experience it may seem like they're...
- ...stealing the spotlight and making the interaction all about them.
- ...making false, insensitive assumptions about what the other person is going through.
- ...one-upping them by trying to share something better or worse.
It is possible to come across like that, but it's not automatically rude and tactless to say, "I've had that happen too." It often can be a good, sensible way to show support and solidarity. Here are some quick suggestions on how to bring up your own related experiences most appropriately:
Mention the same thing happened to you, but only after listening to them first
After you've already heard them out, you could say something like, "I went through that last summer" or "That happened to me when I was a kid too." Since you've already listened to their account, you'll have a better sense of exactly how to respond. For example, if told you about getting some poor customer service, you may realize they're venting and want you to share a similar story of how you felt frustrated at a disrespectful employee, so they don't feel like their own reaction is out of line.
Say something similar happened to you, but then turn the discussion back to them
- "Yeah, something like that happened to me the other month, but go on..."
- "Oh, that happened to me last year. It was stressful, but I got through it, but you were saying?..."
Briefly let them know you may have some sense of what it was like for them, but then show your intention to take the back seat and let them share. Once they're done it may make sense for you to tell them your story.
Tell them you went through the same broad experience, but then qualify how it may have been different for you
- "Ugh, that happened to me last year and it threw me off for a few days, though that's just me. How are you feeling about it?"
- "I was in the same spot once at work. It ended up resolving faster than I expected at the time, but every company is different. How's it going over there?"
You can hedge your bet this way. If you share how it was for you, and it's the same for them, they may feel relieved or understood to know their experience matches. If things are playing out differently for them, you've shown you realize the event can unfold in multiple ways and won't jump to conclusions.
Avoid saying insensitive things
If you're already concerned about whether it's okay to say, "I've been through the same thing" or not, you may know these points already, but I'll still list them, even if it's as a short refresher:
- Don't say, "I've been through that too", then launch into a long anecdote about it, and then change the subject once you're done. That robs them of a chance to discuss the very topic they brought up.
- Don't say, "That happened to me" then start expressing anger, sadness, or anxiety about it, suddenly forcing them to drop everything and support you. Every so often someone is reminded of an extremely painful time in their past, and they can't help getting upset. However, most of the time we aren't too, too triggered when we're made to think back to a difficult experience, and we can choose not to take the focus off the other person. It's a mistake to make it all about us.
- Don't try to "beat" their story with something even worse - "Bah, being overcharged five bucks is nothing. One time a plumber ripped me off for $400." This seems like you're competing over who has it the hardest, making it about you, and invalidates what they're going through.
- Don't make assumptions about what exactly it's like for them, e.g., "Yeah, that happened to me last winter. I was so pissed off. I went to my boss and told her..." They may not be angry at all, and worried or sad instead.
- Don't say you went through something similar, when the events aren't really comparable. This one requires more judgment and life experience. An extreme, though not unheard of, example is telling someone who just lost a loved one that you had a pet who died. Even if you don't outright say, "...so I know what you're going through", the implication is there. Even if you mean well, and feel your grief over losing your dog was valid and intense, most people don't think a pet passing away is comparable to the death of a parent or spouse.
In short, it's not automatically a mark against you if you say, "The same thing happened to me." People are often happy to hear they're not alone in what they're going through. Just use a bit of finesse in exactly how you mention it.