The holidays can be a tricky time for many people. Our brains tend to suggest that the past was better than it actually was, and that the future is bleaker than it will likely be. And because everything—EVERYTHING—is focused on holiday stuff right now, it’s easy to feel frazzled and overwhelmed.
With that in mind, I want to offer you some tips to better navigate the season; these ideas are designed to help you get back to your center, regardless of what’s happening around you.
1-One word. I want you to choose one word, consciously and intentionally, that will serve as your personal bumper system throughout each day/week (or whatever time frame you select). The word you choose will serve to re-orient you in a moment-to-moment style. But it’s not just a matter of uttering the word; you’ll need to feel into the word you choose to expand its power and effectiveness in every interaction.
Let me give you an example: Maybe the word you choose on day one of this exercise is “peace.” Later that morning at a staff meeting, you note one particular colleague is behaving passive aggressively toward you. You’ve had differences in the past, but your attention is drawn to him over and over and you can feel your ire rising. In the interest of productive meetings, you choke back your anger and retreat into seemingly endless internal dialogue about how he behaved and how you let him get away with it. You likely even find “allies” in this situation, co-workers that sympathize and side with you. Lines are drawn (mentally) and you rehearse ad nauseam what you might have said to stop what was happening. Of course at the next staff meeting, you’re locked and loaded. Just waiting for him to cross that line. Again. And on it goes.
Now let’s put our word to work here. You chose the word peace, but peace exited the building as soon as you needed it. Instead, you hurdled into office drama that you didn’t invite or initiate. So what might you have done differently?
The moment the energy changed (offender Number One went to work on your emotional safety by parrying and dodging throughout the meeting) you might have taken a deep breath, gone back to your word and considered, “How could ‘peace’ work in this situation? What’s my most peaceful possible response right in this moment?”
Now this does warrant the intentional pause (remember, we’re responding, not reacting) a skill which takes some time to develop, so just be patient with yourself.
In the scenario we’re examining, the “most peaceful response” might be something like this: “Hey Phil, it feels to me like you’re trying to make some point here, but I’m sort of confused on what that is. Can you help me better understand what you’re trying to say?” It’s critical that you come from a place of pure curiosity, not confrontation, as you pose the question, however. At that moment, it’s very easy to slide into attack and defend. So check that before you engage. Posing the question from a space of genuine curiosity begins a conversation of which you are 100 percent responsible for 50 percent of the total.
I know, I know. It does feel easier at times to simply blast a person for his bad behavior and move on. And perhaps there are times when that is the best or quickest solution to mitigate an issue. But we’re looking here at how to keep you in your most peaceful place emotionally, so you’re in charge of how you’re experiencing each moment. We want to get off the blame train and take responsibility for our reactions to what others are doing or not doing.
2-Re-heated mashed potatoes are lethal.
A mashed potato patty with scrambled eggs, your cheese of choice and served over a bed of spinach is a super healthy and yummy breakfast.
But mashed potatoes heated in pan maintain their heat longer than eggs do. MUCH longer, in fact. The moment of contact will drop you to your knees as you attempt to dislodge the searing hot dense patty, which suddenly has the adhesion strength of Gorilla Glue, from your mouth while making indecipherable animalistic noises through your nose.
It’s not a pretty sight and should this happen to you, I hope it happens away from any witnesses and out of earshot of your mother, grandmother, and anyone you might hold in high esteem.
You’ve been warned. Consider it a public service reminder and you’re welcome.
"Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act." ~James Thurber
I’ve been a student of communication style and human interaction for most of my life. I remember being labeled “shy” as a kid—reticent to interact with people I didn’t know well. But I also know, because I remember it clearly, that I watched and listened. A lot. It felt important that I understood context in observing people. To get a handle on both what they were saying and what they weren’t saying.
And those observations led to lots of questions, much to my parents’ frustration, I’m sure.
With that personal disclosure at the forefront, here are some ways to improve your own communication regardless of what your long-term style might be.
1-Listen to understand, not respond. This changes everything. Because of our hyper-connectivity, we’ve closed the gap on the pause. We’re bouncing info and words back and forth at a pace the world has never experienced before, which naturally leads to both miscommunication and confusion. Rather than really listening to what someone is saying, we’re busy waiting for the moment that we get to speak—which also means we’re not really understanding what the other person is communicating. Pay attention to this the next time you’re in conversation with someone and you’ll feel what I mean. It takes concerted effort and lots of practice to be an excellent listener, but it’s well worth the practice.
2-Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions about what’s being said because we’re all wired to be more vigilant about negativity than positivity. If you’re not sure, ask clarifying questions. Be the kind of person that seeks clarity at all times and in all ways. We’re all worried about looking stupid, so just let that go. I learned as a working reporter that people would much rather you ask that “stupid question” rolling around in your head than have you assume something and be wrong about it.
3-Seek commonality, not difference. The sages have said this for years—as humans, there’s more that binds us than separates us. Find that connection point and watch how much clearer and more authentic your interactions become.
4-Release the desire to perseverate on things. Some of the loudest places I’ve ever been are in my own head and much of what rolls around in there is, frankly, useless and pointless. Get real with this about yourself. Ruminating on things is a human tendency but the output is rarely helpful. Some things are just that—things, circumstances, events. You don’t need to analyze them in gory, repetitive detail. Put another way, “let it go.” Observe, learn, process and move on.
5-It’s never personal. People get into patterns of behavior. They communicate certain ways because those ways have paid off somehow in the past. If a person’s style of communication irks you, know that that style has worked out for them in some fashion. It’s not directly related to you and the shared circumstance you’re in. It’s not personal, so don’t make it so. Once you make it personal, you’ve created a blockade between you and that other person and you will seek evidence in the future to support your position/feelings and…on and on it goes. Get off that train now because the destination is less than fun. Always.
6-Be consistent. It’s my belief that there’s nothing more reassuring than someone who is consistent. I get that this takes a large degree of control and tact to make this your style, but the payoff is huge. Think about the people that you interact with regularly. Think about the ones that are consistent in style, form and manner and then think about the ones that make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. You’re overly diligent about not triggering them so there’s always some degree of inauthenticity in your communication with them.
With a little work, anyone can be consistent but a key ingredient is slowing things down. Asking for time when you need to consider something. And really being aware of how you’re occurring to other people. Not self-conscious, but self-aware. Aware of not just yourself and your actions, but also how others typically interact and react to you.
Sidenote: If your own tendency is to be the second of the two styles I described above and it’s something you’ve decided to work on, here are some questions to ask yourself: What is your payoff in creating and recreating that type of interaction? Why do you want people you’re in relationship with off balance? Do you feel more “in control” when others are unsteady? Why? Does it empower you in some way? Not judging, just asking. Once you understand something about yourself fully, you’re better able to own it and then change it.
Put some of these ideas to work, and I’d encourage you to spend more time just observing—without judgement—the interactions of your daily life—your own included. Trust your senses about what you’re seeing and feeling—those abilities are there to help you but must be utilized to affect any understanding and perhaps, if you choose, change.
If you think you could use some help on this, I am happy to assist. And when you try out some of these tips, please let me know how they worked out.
Let’s keep the conversation going, shall we?
Your words have intention and power. Every minute of every day. Are you using them against yourself? Against others? Against whatever you're going through or heading toward?
Use your words to support, care and heal.
Because we need more kindhearted souls--that's obvious isn't it?
Just as an experiment, pay close attention to your words today, both spoken and internal. Speak the things you want to see and then notice how you feel--and how you treat others.
Be THAT person today.
"I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the
personal development and Equus coach, former Penn State journalism instructor and professional writer.