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Burgess: Surviving the holiday season

Martha Burgess
Valley Voices

Do you already dread it? Sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal as your uncle tears into President Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Joining colleagues for a drink when you overhear how Colorado Mountain Medical is now requiring vaccines. What an infringement of my rights! You finally catch a flight to visit your aging parents and departure is delayed by a woman who insists wearing a mask under her chin is “good enough.”

Martha Burgess

There is no shortage of heated topics on the local, state, and national level. The climate remains hot (literally and figuratively). So what is your best line of defense? Logic, reasoning, facts, and straight-up insults may be your first impulse.

I’m here to implore you to try a new tactic. Listening.



Not listening to form a rebuttal or impress with your understanding of the facts. Not doing it to gather ammunition, but listening for listening’s sake. As clinical psychologist Harriet Lerner once said, “If we only listened with the same passion that we feel about being heard.”

Hear me out.



First, the art of listening must be done in person. Because listening, and communication as a whole, is about body language.

That’s why it’s important to tune in with your body. Face the person you are listening to with your shoulders and hips. Instead of crossing your arms, place your hands in your lap or around a mug. Lean in and make eye contact.

You must also avoid distractions. Put the phone away. Smartwatch is off. You’re not thinking about your reply or waiting for your chance to speak. Focus on understanding the human in front of you.

Know that listening to someone, a loved one or otherwise, does not mean you agree with them. Repeat that.

Just because I am giving this person air time does not mean I agree with them. It’s OK to entertain their ideas without accepting them.

You will also need verbal responses. Oh.

Interesting. I see. Look for opportunities to ask genuine follow-up questions to aid in your understanding. Careful they don’t turn into undercutting or combative questions like, “What is your source for this information?”

The most powerful move of all the listening techniques: paraphrase. Restate what you hear the speaker say in your own words. It may surprise you how the speaker calms down when they feel they have actually been heard.

To what end? I’m not proposing that active listening will close the divide that has come between us. But I do believe it will drop the blood pressure and ensure a more enjoyable holiday season for all. This year, give the gift of presence through real, honest listening.


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