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Creativity & Imagination, Health & Beauty

The Art of Listening, Or How to Avoid a Holiday Horror Show

Do you ever feel like everyone seems mad at you at the same time, and you can’t seem to make anyone happy? You hear criticism from every angle – especially around the holidays, and every step you take is deemed a misstep by people around you. (Or maybe you’re actually the judgmental one.) Well, it’s time to take advice from Depeche Mode and “try walking in my shoes.” Keep reading to learn how to be a better listener – something from which we can all benefit.

They Probably Don’t Understand Anyway

You already know that your friends and family are full of opinions, and they may think they understand your situation, but unless they’re literally standing in your shoes all day, every day, it’s time they learn to STFU for a minute (and I mean that in the nicest way possible).

While your mom may mean well and your best friends may think they know what’s best for you – until you’re ready to make big decisions of your own accord and face any possible consequences – all this talk is really just noise. And it can be painful to listen to.

“If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.” – Buddha

In most instances, the best thing to offer someone, instead of an opinion of how to “fix” a situation, is to just listen. The act (and art) of listening requires few opinions, and lots of support. That’s what true friendship and unconditional love require sometimes – a friendly ear. (And if that’s not possible, then it’s time to sit down with an objective listener such as a licensed counselor.)

Listening is a Skill Worth Practicing

Do you want to become a better listener? It takes practice. Start by learning the 10 useful rules for having better conversations by radio host and TED Talks speaker Celeste Headlee. Here are her helpful tips.

10 Rules to Having a Good Conversation

  • Don’t multitask. Be present in the moment of a conversation.
  • Don’t pontificate. Your opinion is not always welcome!
  • Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with Who, What, When, Why, or How.
  • Go with the flow. Ignore useless thoughts, and don’t interrupt the conversation.
  • If you don’t know or understand, just say so. Err on the side of caution. Don’t pretend to be an expert if you’re not.
  • Don’t equate your experience with theirs. (This moment is not all about you.) Remember: “All experiences are individual,” Headlee says. “Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.”
  • Try not to repeat yourself.
  • Stay out of the weeds. (Don’t worry about all the details.)
  • LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN. “This is the most important skill you can develop,” according to Headlee.
  • Be Brief. “Be interested in other people,” Headlee concludes.

I know I’ve been guilty of all of these things and need to be a better listener myself. Will you try to meet me halfway? (Watch the full TED Talk below.)

Nobody’s Perfect

This thing called life that we all struggle through is rarely perfect. There are always going to be rough edges, rocks to trip over, boulders in our way, or mountains to climb. But if we do our best to listen to each other, and to ourselves, we can maneuver around most of the obstacles in our path. And while your mom or best friends may take the long, winding road, you may want to take the high road to get to where you’re going. And that’s OK.

So, this holiday season, when all your family is near – even the ones you don’t always get along with – keep the dialog cool and calm. Avoid blatant time bombs like discussions about your personal relationships (i.e., questions like “When are you guys having a baby?”), religious beliefs, or politics.

Overall, just listen, be cordial, and no matter what – be polite. (Remember, you’ll have to face these folks again next year!) The reason for the season is not sticking your foot in your mouth (or up someone else’s arse). It’s about civility and unity. Come together, despite your differences, and ring in the New Year with some self-respect, dignity, and good will.

Happy Holidays!

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