One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As we head into the holiday season, many of us will be spending quality time with family and friends. This is a chance to give the unforgettable gift of making those around us feel seen, heard, valued, and appreciated. Especially as we engage the young people in our lives, there is an opportunity to connect in ways that encourage them to persevere through struggles, anxieties, or disappointments. Many of them may just need to know that our family, our friendship, or our community is a place where they belong. Some may be feeling uncertain or scared and need encouragement to pursue a new opportunity or try something that feels daunting. I have found that sometimes even a short 10–15-minute conversation where someone feels heard and has a chance to process what they are thinking, can result in the encouragement and insight they need to take an important step.
The good news is that to have this type of impact, we do not need to possess extraordinary knowledge, experience, or expertise. We simply need to engage those around us with empathy, taking time to ask good questions, listen, and provide specific encouragement. However, this can be difficult because it can require intentionality and sacrifice.
Today, with the constant noise and distractions of social media, news feeds, podcasts, music and notifications, we often give things our partial attention. This can become a habit that inhibits our ability to listen fully to those with whom we are interacting.
Active listening requires sacrificing our desire to share our own thoughts and experiences, and discipline to ignore distractions and fully focus on the person in front of us. Here are a few other elements of active listening:
• Ask good, open-ended questions.
• Focus your attention on the speaker. Make eye contact.
• Consider body language, facial expressions, tone, and emotions.
• Do not interrupt or assume a conclusion before the speaker has finished.
• Do not think about what you are going to say next.
• Listen to what they are saying and react without judgment.
• Reflect what you are hearing and ask clarifying questions.
• Provide specific encouragement and affirmation.
Listening requires a lot of self-control as we prioritize the other person, their experience and feelings, and manage our own responses and reactions. However, the value of listening is significant. Businessman Nido Qubein offers a good reminder as we engage others this holiday season: “Listen twice as much as you talk, and others will hear twice as much of what you say.”
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!