The holiday season is typically a time of joy and connection. However, when interacting with people during family gatherings who have different viewpoints from you, conversations can arise that become unproductive or tense.
To ensure that everyone around your dinner table enjoys the occasion, here are three tips to help you have more harmonious conversations at your next holiday gathering. By using these techniques and tools for friendly dialogue, you can create a positive atmosphere where everyone feels heard and respected.
Pause before responding
In our typically hurried lives, we too often are either multi-tasking or rushing between conversations with others.
Instead, take a moment to be present. Put your phone away and look directly at the other person. Focus your complete attention and listen to what they are saying.
Repeat what you heard
Nearly every time we listen to others, we are preparing our own response, defense, or clarification. Verbal communication is an imperfect transaction.
Instead of responding with your own story or defense, repeat in your own words what the speaker shared. This is an opportunity to check your understanding and see if you are really getting the essence of what the other person is saying.
You don’t need to repeat it word for word, but honor the other person with the acknowledgment that you are hearing them. This not only assures them you are listening; it gives them a moment to think about whether they were expressing what they really meant.
They get to hear themselves and consider their own words.
For example, if your friend tells you with a sigh that they are stressed by their child’s recent behavior at home and school, you can respond, “It sounds like (child’s name) has not only been doing things privately in your house, but also in public places like school, and you are pretty upset.”
No fixing, just truly listening to your friend or family member.
Once you share with the other person what you heard, they will likely tell you more details about the situation.
They may even note that, in fact, they hadn’t meant exactly what they said and will clarify their words, helping you both understand more clearly. Become a heartfelt detective and continue to listen with curiosity instead of judgment.
Instead of interrupting or inserting a story about your own life, stay curious and ask questions that request more detail like:
What are you thinking about doing next?
How are you feeling after all this happened?
What do you think would be helpful?
The key is to seek understanding rather than agreement.
Even if you disagree with the other person, remember it is not about the topic. Save any argument about who is right or wrong for another time. Take this precious opportunity to understand the world of the other person, even for just a few moments. You don’t need to agree with them to understand them.
This holiday season, the most precious gift you can offer is your attention.
Try these three practices (pause, repeat, and detect) and have fun!
In the New Year, if you want continuing support around communication, know that we at the Agricultural Mediation Program are here to help.