Four Ways to Listen Well This Holiday Season When Your Mind is Overwhelmed
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
Because blank staring through someone's soul doesn't always scream, "I'm so happy you're here!"
The sun was shining and the air was cool. My sister had just arrived to the States from Germany and we were sitting together on a blanket in my mom's front lawn. I was so overjoyed to see her and so thankful the Lord allowed her to come across the ocean during a pandemic. But, there was so much on my mind.
Smack dab in the middle of holiday season I was overwhelmed at what was to come. My mind was racing at the task of either staying in my apartment and giving up a majority of my income to afford it, or finding a nice and compatible roommate and then another, different, two bedroom apartment that worked for both of our budgets, or move back in with my mom. There was more Christmas shopping to be done and a trip to plan. I was so stressed.
But my awesome sister was sitting next to me, in America! We did a cheers with our bubbly drinks and she was talking to me about her art. Looking back with a bit of remorse, I could have done a way better job at listening to what was on her heart and what she was passionate about, especially after she had come so far.
If that's you this holiday season, let's walk through this together. If you zone out while people are talking to you because you're overthinking to infinity and beyond, myself included, let's talk. The time we are allotted with our people is too precious to waste or take for granted.
1. If you zone out while someone is talking to you, try to notice it.
This may sound like common sense but have you ever arrived to your destination by car and then realized you completely blanked out the entire time you were driving and have no idea how you safety appeared at your place of choice? Guilty.
When I start staring through whoever I'm talking to and the person becomes blurry or I know there's so much on my mind as a conversation begins that I won't be able to focus, I need to try to come back to reality and notice I'm doing it before I'm too deep into the conversation.
I start to notice I'm not all there when I'm legit looking through someone's soul so lost in thought. My mom will wave me down and ask me if I'm there. My best bet, then, is to try to catch myself early. Being aware of where I tend to go into self-inflicted ruts helps me to avoid them in the future.
2. If you zone out while someone is talking to you, try to listen with your ears and your eyes.
Ears are for listening, right? I learned that when I was like four years old, maybe. But after I have noticed I zoned out on a sweet friend and then come back mentally to the conversation, I make it a point to not only hear what they're saying, but also look at them, not through them.
3. If you zone out while someone is talking to you, don't be too prideful to apologize and ask for a repeat.
Saying sorry is hard sometimes. I am an anxious gal in my bones and I like blaming bad habits on being anxious. But instead of just smiling and waving like the Madagascar penguins, I should probably step back from zoning out, realize someone is speaking with me, usually with intentionality, and say I'm sorry for zoning out and ask them to repeat what they were saying so I can enter back into the conversation. These run on sentences show the reality of HoW UnComForTaBlE this conversation makes me!
Being prideful will keep me from saying "I am sorry but I was in my head." If I don't apologize and be honest, it can give off the vibe that I don't care what my friend has to say. Being on the other side of such an experience, I can say with truth in my guts that it does make a gal feel undervalued when someone doesn't give their attention! And I didn't even bring up the use of phones while someone is talking. Yikes.
4. If you zone out while someone is talking to you, re-enter the conversation and engage with them.
Short, sweet, and simple. Some directions I can understand. Woo! Once I have noticed I zoned out and I'm back on earth, I have watched with my eyes and heard with my ears, I have said I'm sorry and asked my friend to repeat, I'm back baby! Now I can do all those active listening tips and tricks I have heard before while in college and have since ignored. When ya don't use it, ya lose it!
Here are some ways that Forbes says we can be active listeners:
Face the person you're chatting with and make eye contact.
Be attentive, but relax.
Keep an open mind.
Listen to the words and try to picture what the person is saying.
Wait for the person to pause before asking questions.
Ask questions only to ensure understanding. Rabbit trails if not.
Try to feel what the speaker is feeling. Empaths, unite!
Give the speaker regular feedback. Do the nod, give them an "hmm."
These are things I needed to hear. Especially this Christmas season as I gather with family and friends, my desire is to be extra attentive to them. 2020 has unveiled the importance of genuine care and community like we haven't experienced before. If I can be a better advocate of that while I am here instead of listening to simply respond or worrying about my issues all the time, I'd like to do that.
While sitting under the sun with my sister, I got a text clarifying my entire roommate search. I ran in to meet my mom, quickly explain everything, and we ironed out the reality that when my lease is up, I'm simply moving home. The pressure from within me was completely relieved and I was given the chance to go back out to meet my sister and explain all that was going on in my head and heart. She met me with extreme kindness and felt the weight off my shoulders alongside me. I gave her a big ole sister hug and told her how happy I was she was here. I meant it. After being completely overwhelmed and distant, I was given the gift of coming back to reality and truly engaging with my family.
Praying this holiday season is one where we can really soak up being amongst our people as well as savoring the reality that Jesus was really among us and the Spirit is with us now. The Lord is the one who never fails to listen to His children, even if we feel like He has turned His back on us at times. Jesus turned and gave His time to the most unlikely people during the most unlikely times in the most unlikely situations. May we do the same.