Do you want to know the secret to being the most sought after guest at this year’s holiday party?

It’s not bringing the best bottle of wine or the yummiest appetizer or even a rockin’ hostess gift.

And the best news is:

It’s not going to cost you a penny.

Before I fill you in, let me share a story…

Last New Year’s Eve I was seated next to someone I didn’t know at a dinner party. I did what I usually do when I meet someone new – I asked a few leading questions about his life.

Then I listened intently.

This gentleman, we’ll call him Mr. X, had just started a new business in a field I was particularly interested in. With a few inquiries from me, he shared the story of his meteoric rise to success as well as some of his inner resources and best deals.

As we were driving home my husband said, “Wow, you really made a great impression with Mr. X.“

“Really, how so?” I asked.

“He told me what a delightful conversationalist you were and how much he enjoyed your company at dinner.”

The funny thing is Mr. X walked away without knowing a single thing about me. I could have been a serial killer, an Amway distributor, or a Pulitzer prize winning author. He didn’t ask me one question about myself… but I knew plenty about him.

The gift I gave was the gift of intentional attention.

I answered that irreplaceable desire we all have to be seen and heard and understood. I cared about what he was telling me and I helped him tell his story.

There is nothing more satisfying or “delightful” than receiving the gift of authentic attention.

Now I come by this gift naturally. My father was a completely gregarious fellow who loved people and wanted to “know” everything about everyone, and I picked up that gene. I am genuinely interested in people and their stories.

[Tweet “There is nothing more satisfying or “delightful” than receiving the gift of authentic attention.”]

In fact the running joke in my family when we are out in public is:

“Now don’t make eye contact Mom, we don’t have time for a life-story today.”

But not to worry if that’s not in your genetic make-up.

I’ve got some tips and tools for “engaged and intentional listening” that will get you through the round of Holiday Merry-Making whether that’s:

  • The requisite office party shin-dig
  • The family gathering of long lost relatives
  • Or the important conversations you want to have with those you hold most dear.

Giving people your time and attention and offering your sincere presence is the key to meaningful connections.

How many of us listen with the intent to really understand the person sitting across from us? Or do we listen just long enough to figure out our own response?

And then anxiously wait for them to quit talking so we can voice our piece.

Many of us believe our task in communication is to deliver our message – period.

And once we’ve done that, the job is done.

[Tweet “How many of us listen just long enough to figure out our own response?”]

While delivering an authentic and clear message is a big part of effective communication, there is another aspect that we too often leave out:

The listening component of communication.

Listening with the intent to understand vs. listening with the intent to change someone’s perspective is a huge part of what I work to teach my clients. Especially when I’m working with couples and families.

What many people don’t understand is that it is a skill that can be learned. And it involves a number of specific components.

Here’s an overview of the process:

Step 1: Listen to Understand
First listening with the intent to understand involves really attending to the other, looking for the non-verbals, the voice tone, the facial expressions, and the body posture. Those are big clues letting you in on the emotional component of what someone is telling you.

Step 2: Acknowledge and Summarize
The Next step is to acknowledge and summarize what you have heard from your partner, co-worker, family member or friend. Take the time to make sure you have all the story. Use their language and words to communicate to them that you heard them and understand their viewpoint.

After your paraphrase, ask if you got it right. Make sure you didn’t miss a part of the story or perspective.

“Did I get all of it?”

Step 3: Invite More Information with Three Magic Words and the Right Questions
And finally invite more information. “Tell me more” are the 3 most important and caring words you can utter when listening with the intent to deeply connect.

Ask open questions using WHAT not WHY. Why questions can set up defensiveness in people.

So for example, ask “What was that like for you?” vs “Why did you do that?”

Being Seen and Known, truly known, by another person is the greatest gift we can give each other.

We don’t have to agree with what others are telling us. But giving them the gift of taking the time to really hear their story might just allow them to let go of their perspective long enough to listen to ours.

[Tweet “Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all felt heard and understood?”]

I believe listening with the intent to understand and communicating that to our important “others” is the path to changing the world.

What if instead of telling people what you believe, you listened to what someone who is different than you believes?

I invite you to open the door to your heart and mind this Holiday season, and practice really listening. Just to see how it changes your perspective and you just might find yourself on everyone’s holiday party list.


Authored by Cynthia Benge, MSW-LMHC, of Cynthia Benge Therapy and co-founder of Hold Me Tight Seattle and Portland Workshops. Check out our next Hold Me Tight Seattle and Portland workshop here »