The calendar tells us that the holidays are upon us: Thanksgiving has come and gone, Hanukkah has begun, and Christmas is a few crazy weeks away. Unfortunately, for many, the holiday spirit hasn’t yet arrived in our hearts. You may be feeling the pressure of having too much to do in too little time, deadlines nipping at your heels at work and at home, no time to relax. You may also have mixed feelings as you anticipate the social events of the holidays, both at work and with family. Planning for the year to come might be laced with uncertainty regarding your business and personal life.
That stress can seep into your communication and your relationships. When you’re distracted, you won’t listen as well. When you’re feeling pressure, you’re more likely to overreact to little things. When you are ambivalent or worried but don’t have time to relax, those emotions can dictate how you relate to people. Even if you’re managing these issues well, there will be people at work and home who are on tilt. The great irony of the holidays is that when you are supposed to be giving thanks, praying for peace, and celebrating the greatness of the human spirit, you find yourself gritting your teeth, doing what you can to get through the day.
Here’s the good news: there are two gifts that will help you disrupt this pattern. These gifts create thanksgiving, peace, and connection at this time year and throughout the year, whether you’re in a meeting about 2016 priorities, chatting with a colleague, or celebrating with friends and family around the hearth. The trick is that to get these gifts you first have to give them (sorry).
The first is the gift of your attention. As co-workers, friends, or family members talk, give them your full attention. Look away from whatever screen is at hand; stop the part of your brain that is working out other things. Set your own thoughts and reactions about what they’re saying aside. Be as present as you can with the people you’re with. Years ago, research found that married couples paid this kind of attention to one another on average 20 minutes a week. In an era where partners are as likely to get status updates online as they are in person, true attention is a rare treat.
The second gift is even rarer. It is the gift of listening. When a co-worker or confidante becomes animated or starts speaking about something important to them, don’t respond right away. Be curious. Don’t interrupt. Wait to see if there’s more. Try to understand the issue from their frame of reference, not yours. After they’ve talked a while, summarize what you’ve heard. Show you understand what they’re saying and why it’s important to them. Then share your perspective—and be ready to listen some more.
A by-product of these gifts of attention and listening is that, when you do them well, they give back. When you genuinely pay attention, you find a moment of stillness within your own hectic day. When you listen to someone else’s challenges, it puts your own in perspective. And when you listen attentively to others, they’re far more likely to listen to you.
These gifts enrich your relationships too, building trust and connection. Paying attention and listening help other people let go of distractions and return to the present moment where it becomes truly possible to give thanks, find peace, and celebrate the spirit of the season.
Happy Holidays from Ridge!