Do you hear that? It’s the noisiest time of the year. There’s the external clamor of holiday music, parties, traffic, and headlines. There’s our internal cacophony of to do lists, worries, joys, and deadlines. Some of our mental tumult even swirls around what gifts to give others. Whether family, co-workers, or friends, it’s a challenge to know what they would most appreciate.

The truth? Way down deep what people want most…is to feel known. We want to feel valued. In a world that’s filled with competing voices, where air time is a premium, we all want to feel heard.

Many of us, with decent intentions, feel the need to banter, opine, entertain, and postulate. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Unless we routinely dominate conversations. It can become a habit if we’re not careful. And it can make others feel invisible over time.

Someone once provided a description that illustrates this well: It’s the difference between a “Here I am!” person and a “There you are!” person. Can you picture that?

So, what’s the greatest gift you can give this season?
To listen. Deeply.
What does that look like?

It looks like taking a real pause before jumping in with your own thoughts.

Our brains need one half second to retrieve words to reply in conversation, according to “The Secret Life of ‘Um’” in The Atlantic. Yet the average person responds in just 200 milliseconds. These responses are frequently mutterings meant to reserve our turn to speak, revealing that “one person is gearing up to speak before the other is even finished.”

Things to avoid in conversation:

  • Maybe you don’t need to immediately add to their point.
  • Or improve upon their point.
  • Refrain from turning the subject to yourself.
  • Resist the temptation to tie their story to your own knowledge or experience.

Instead, create space for them to go a little deeper. Be gently and genuinely curious. Questions that can enrich the conversation in surprising ways are:

  • “why do you think that is?”
  • “what else?”
  • “what’s next?”

Whether it’s at dinner with family, a party with colleagues, in a meeting, or on a walk with your teenager…listen deeply.

Mr. Rogers, of the classic children’s PBS series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” once said “you can love almost anyone if you just know enough of their story.” Can you give someone the time and space to tell their story? You may find that even people who are hard to love become just a little more loveable.

No, it’s not a wrapped gift under a tree. We should provide those, too. But perhaps this year the best gift you can give loved ones, colleagues, and strangers alike is the experience of being truly heard. It may move them closer to feeling deeply known. And that’s a rare and beautiful gift.


Do you want to boost your effectiveness as a leader who listens? Do you have a team that could improve communication for greater impact?

We offer coaching to increase emotional intelligence, accelerate leadership capability, and improve teamwork.

Chemistry is critical in a coaching relationship, so we offer a complimentary coaching session to see if we’re a good fit. Contact us for more information.

We’d love to listen to your story!

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