Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which I will be spending with my American mother. To me, Thanksgiving is really the start of the holiday season. I’m looking forward to lots of tasty food and quality time with loved ones.
Sometimes spending time with family, as loved as they are, can be tricky. Perhaps Dad is once again bringing up some rather divisive political opinions, or maybe Grandma is asking for the 20th time when the eldest grandkid is going to get married. There is certainly no shortage of advice online about how to survive the holidays with family. But it’s not just about surviving!
I bring you 3 wise tips (like the 3 wise men – geddit?) for not just avoiding the Christmas conflicts, but also making the most of your family time, using… you guessed it: listening.
1. Be compassionate.
The first of my 5 Keys to professional listening is compassion – and of course it’s not just for the office. Take an empathetic approach, trying to assume the best in others. (Sidenote: you can get a Free Guide to all 5 Keys by joining our Glistener subscribers, including how to show compassion.)
Consider the aforementioned Dad with his objectionable political opinions. Instead of letting his views make your blood boil, try to take his perspective for a moment. He has likely had unique experiences that has lead him to different conclusions than you. Could it be that he is simply a product of his time?
Likewise, think about why Grandma is pressuring the grandchildren. What if you put yourself in her shoes? Perhaps she is just eager to have more young ones in the family and views marriage as a step in that direction, or maybe she simply wants them to find love and be happy.
Taking an empathetic approach will help you be more forgiving when loved ones are being difficult, allowing you to truly listen without being defensive. It will also help you find common ground to talk about, which brings us to the second tip.
2. Ask open questions.
Keep the conversation moving along and really connect with your family with open questions. These are questions starting with words like “what” “why” or “how” that pick up on what has been said. Truly open questions don’t direct the speaker or aim get a specific answer (i.e. avoid “Why can’t you see I’m right?!”). Instead, good open questions bring more depth and clarity to the conversation.
You could try to thoughtfully exploring where Dad’s views come from. Imagine you’re a political scientist trying to figure out why so many people voted for Trump. Ask him open questions – not with the view to change his opinion, but rather to genuinely understand where he might be coming from. Likewise, you could ask Grandma about marriage; how did she meet Granddad, or what was her wedding like?
Failing that, you can always change the subject with an open question about a new topic. There is always the classic “Mom, this turkey is delicious. How did you make it?” However, try to think of more resourceful questions that might bring you closer to your family. You could ask your older relatives about their younger days, or ask your younger relatives about their latest achievement.
Try brainstorming a list of good open questions for your family before heading home for the holidays. You could even steal some from the bestselling Book of Questions. This way, you might even learn something new about those you love while you’re avoiding tricky subjects.
3. Share the gift of listening.
Genuine connection requires active listening to go both ways. You can use active listening to avoid conflict and build your understanding. However, in personal relationships, it’s important that you feel heard, too.
You can lead by example. Tell your loved ones about active listening and how it’s changed your life. Show your siblings how you have used your skills to avoid arguments with Dad and diffuse awkward questions from Grandma. Try introducing them to some of our listening game ideas from Twitter. Have fun with it!
And (shameless plug) you could even literally give the gift of listening by buying gift coaching sessions. It might be the perfect Christmas present for someone you know. They could use their new skills with you, and it might help them make great leaps professionally!