The holiday season is here! Lights are sparkling, people are partying, and stores are selling. It can be so overwhelming! Running from place to place, worrying about the perfect gift for each person on our list, and for some of us, squeezing in all the patients who want to be seen before the end of the year makes for a pretty stressful time. If we look around us, we see that most of our colleagues and friends are feeling the stress, too.
So how do we navigate this busy time so we can enjoy the company of those we’re with and nurture ourselves in the midst of the overwhelm?
We can actually find a great idea in a very unlikely place. Peter Bregman, a management and leadership consultant, shares some sage advice, even though the connection to the holidays may not be immediately obvious. http://peterbregman.com/articles/the-most-overlooked-leadership-skill/ Just as a good quarterback is only as effective as his receivers, Bregman argues that leaders must not only be effective at sharing their vision and ideas, they must also be good receivers. They must be able to listen well and be open to the ideas and concerns of those they work with. Similarly, as we meet old friends, colleagues or new acquaintances at our many holiday celebrations, we can be good receivers for each of them. How do we do that? By inquiring about their lives and concerns and listening beneath the words for the emotion or need that they are expressing. Bregman encourages us to do three things as we listen: be courageous, don’t judge, and stay open.
It takes courage to really listen to what people are saying – after all, they may express ideas that we disagree with or find uncomfortable. It’s a human tendency to judge – our species wouldn’t have survived if we didn’t reflexively judge what seems safe vs. dangerous, or what we like vs. what might be unpleasant. In medicine, we constantly judge our patients, our colleagues, and ourselves in order to determine the proper diagnosis and treatment and continue to improve our skills. But when we judge, we actually limit our listening ability. We don’t fully take in what the person is telling us. So by refraining from judging (which takes practice and discipline!) we keep ourselves open to truly hearing what the other person is saying. We can paraphrase what we heard to make sure we have it right. We can ask why they might have adopted a particular perspective. All with the intent of staying open so we can understand and connect with the other person. Those individual experiences of connection nurture our sense of being human and give our lives greater meaning.
So during this holiday season, let’s enter each room with the feeling that our arms are wide open – to receive each person we meet. The experience might just be the best gift we give, and the best one we receive.
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