The holiday season is here. During the next couple of weeks, many of us may have opportunities to see family members and perhaps grandchildren or nieces and nephews that we don’t get to see all that often. When we don’t see some family members on a regular basis—especially some of the younger ones—it can be challenging to connect in a meaningful way during those short holiday gatherings. However, there is a relatively effective way to connect with both the younger and older members in our families.
Listening is Not About Being Quiet
We can engage in premeditated, active listening behaviors. It sounds simple, right? All you have to do is be quiet and let the other person talk. But that really isn’t active listening. And the truth is, if we don’t say anything for any period of time, our mind is probably going to wander and we’ll still miss the opportunity to connect.
Having taught speech communication (including listening courses) for over twenty years, I believe that listening is one of the most complex and demanding processes in which we can engage. Honestly, I find that I’m not up to the task at times. Yet when I am willing to make the effort, it is usually more than worth it. To start, with some younger people or with some in-laws, we have to initiate our listening opportunities.
Sometimes I find that it is necessary to suspend judgment and be open-minded before engaging with certain individuals. Maybe an in-law has mannerisms that are annoying or a younger person fidgets while talking or is constantly preoccupied with their phone or tablet. With these encounters, it does take extra mental energy to choose acceptance and to give the gift of listening without reservation.
After suspending any judgments and choosing an open mind, one generally effective way to draw people in is to use open-ended questions rather than closed questions. An example of a closed question would be asking a grandchild how school is going. If I asked one of my grandsons that kind of question, he’d probably say “good” or “okay.” However, if I think about open-ended questions ahead of time, I can get encourage an engaging conversation. For instance, one of my grandsons loves math. If I ask him what it is about math that he loves so much or ways he has been able to use the math he is learning, he’ll talk for quite a while. For me, this is where the premeditated part comes in—I have to think about questions I can ask people that would get them talking.
Probing for More Information
Once we get someone talking about something they enjoy, we can be part of that conversation by asking questions or probing for more information. For example, we can ask for details, more examples, clarification, or other information that encourages communication. We can also share some of our own experiences in the process. For instance, when talking to someone at a family gathering about their work, I asked what drew them to their field in the first place. That person shared a personal experience and told me about their career journey—within a few minutes, I learned a lot about what was really important to a person that I thought I’d known for years.
A Priceless Gift
When we really listen to another person, we are validating them and giving them our undivided attention. That really is a priceless gift. Active listening can be a very powerful way to build strong bonds with younger people and with older ones as well