Active Listening in a Time of Screaming

Well, it’s certainly been noisy out there. Regardless of whether you feel the US election went “your way,” you can’t deny the cacophony, the crying out, that’s going on from all angles. Make no mistake, uproar over the results would have happened regardless of the outcome. So I encourage you to try to imagine a different result and ensuing events. It helps to cultivate empathy.

And, Pro Tip: Empathy is the key ingredient in opening your heart and your mind to others. Especially and including family members who don’t necessarily share your views, but you’ll be sharing meals with in the coming weeks. ’Tis the season, after all.

And I think a return to civil society (or even to find our way back to civil discourse) is going to require we get a lot better at hearing each other. Drop me a line if the reasons aren’t obvious to you, this isn’t a political post, so I’m not getting into them here. But the holidays are upon us, and navigating the season requires our attention and some skills-building, listening well being chief among them. Key Steps:

1) Empathy – Handle with care! So there’s someone or several someones in your life who you love but don’t agree with? You’re not alone—this is an issue that’s come up universally with my clients. Can you find ONE thing you can agree with them about. Maybe it’s food and cooking? Or music tastes? Cocktails? Coffee? No, nothing resonates? What about ONE thing you like about them? Are they an artist? A good cook? Active and inspiring volunteers? Funny? A charming personality? Whatever it may be, no matter how small, focus on that ONE thing and let that soften your heart and give you courage to engage with that kindness at top of mind.

2) Be Open. Engage all your senses. Active listening is a full on sensory experience. Put down the smartphone. Use your eyes. Tune in to your visceral reactions, watch your eye rolling! Body language communicates a huge chunk of our message – make sure your body language lines up. Notice, are you waiting for the pause in the flow so you get a turn to speak? That’s NOT actually listening. If you find your first instinct to scream “shut up” screaming inside your head at someone to “shut up” or “ you’re wrong” – pay attention to that. It’s impacting your ability to be present, and totally hijacking you’re ability to listen.

3) Respect. For others AND yourself. Know your limits! A favorite line of mine when things get heated: “Well, we don’t share that view.” It’s synonymous with agreeing to disagree which is sometimes the best outcome one can hope for. Assert your own views, don’t denigrate. It’s communication 101. Going into conversations trying to convince or cajole others into seeing things your way is divisive and not in either the bridge building or holiday spirits. By the same token, you’re entitled to your own views and to express them. If you feel disrespected or things take a turn for the unkind or unproductive. Son’t be afraid to set a kind, but firm limit.

So be of good cheer. Remember, the holidays are a time of family and friend togetherness. They’re meant to remind us of all the good there is around us, of how we can help others who have less, and how to make an impactful change in our lives and our communities. And it starts by opening our ears.

Nervous about an upcoming holiday gathering and in need of some quick tips or support? Get in touch so I can help!

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