Category Archives: Listening

The Year of Thoughtfulness: Six Simple Actions to Show Others You Care in 2015

Have you ever heard someone comment that thoughtfulness seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs? Perhaps you’ve had the same thought yourself from time to time. We’ve all experienced an every-man-for-himself attitude at work, given gifts that weren’t acknowledged, walked down streets that seemed full of bad attitudes…and much more.

I think that as a society, we might be becoming less considerate to others than we were in the past. But let me be clear: The problem isn’t that we don’t care or that we’re trying to be rude. We’re simply busier, more stressed, and more overwhelmed than ever before! As we navigate our hectic everyday lives to the best of our ability, going out of our way to make others feel good simply doesn’t cross our minds. We’re so focused on checking all the boxes on our growing to-do lists that we don’t have extra mental bandwidth to devote to anyone else. Believe me, I get it!

Fortunately, acknowledging others in a positive way doesn’t require very much of your time and energy—which means that being more thoughtful is a New Year’s resolution that will be easy to keep! Taking one or two minutes to engage with someone else won’t set you back very far on your to-do list, but it can completely change the tone of that person’s day (and improve your own mood, too!).

In 2015, I hope you’ll join me in committing regular acts of thoughtfulness. Here are six simple ways to do just that:

Remember birthdays. In the age of smartphones, electronic calendars, and automated alerts, it has never been easier to remember when a friend’s, loved one’s, or colleague’s birthday is coming up. And even though many of us downplay the significance of this occasion, deep down, it feels nice when someone else acknowledges us on our special day.

I have always enjoyed wishing people in my life a happy birthday. To me, birthdays are a very important day of the year, and no matter how many candles are on the cake, I believe they’re occasions to celebrate. Sometimes I call the person. Sometimes I mail a card with a personal note, or do both. These actions take only a few minutes to accomplish, and they make such a wonderful impression. They make me feel great, too!

Ask, “How are you doing?”…and mean it. We all have challenges. We’re all dealing with various issues in our lives that most other people have no idea exist. That’s why it’s so meaningful to sincerely ask others how they’re doing and what’s happening in their lives.

If someone doesn’t want to share the details of his or her life with you, it’s easy for that person to say, “I’m fine” and leave it at that. But many times, the other person will be grateful for a sympathetic ear and perhaps some advice. Devoting a few minutes of your time solely to someone else can make a huge difference in letting that person know he or she is not alone and that others care.

Pass compliments along. Picture this: You’re talking to a friend, and she mentions how much she loves your mutual hairstylist. The next time you have an appointment, don’t just describe the cut and color you’d like; make a point to let the stylist know how much your friend appreciates her.

When I hear something nice about someone, I love to pass along the compliment. Recently, I worked with a client who has cancer and is going through chemo. She was always cheerful, upbeat, and inspiring to the designer, salesperson, and me. When I called to see how she was feeling before a big family event to which she was wearing one of her new outfits, she was so touched that I had called. She thanked me and mentioned how nice the designer and salesperson had been to her. I couldn’t wait to pass along the compliment. The salesperson and designer were thrilled to hear that our client was doing well and were so grateful that I’d passed along her kind words.

Send handwritten thank-you notes. We’ve all heard this suggestion before—and for good reason. Handwritten notes are so much more meaningful than texts or emails. They’re a tangible reminder to the recipient that you are grateful.

It’s so nice to receive and open a thank-you card. I love knowing that someone else truly appreciated the present, dinner, or weekend visiting our home, for example. Remember, handwritten thank-you notes don’t have to be literary masterpieces. A few sentences that take less than five minutes to write can make someone’s day!

Smile. The next time you’re out in public—taking the bus to work, picking up groceries, or walking your dog in the park, for instance—take notice of other people’s demeanors. How many of them look happy? How many of them smile at you in greeting? Chances are, you’ll find that most people go about their business with single-minded purpose, avoiding eye contact and connection with others. Their faces look closed-off and serious—some of them may even be scowling!

That’s why a simple smile can be so meaningful. Smiles can lift the moods of strangers and friends alike, whether you’re engaged in conversation or not. Try to make it a habit to smile at everyone you encounter: your boss, the cashier at the store, the people you pass on the street. Trust me; you will make a positive impression. You’ll start to feel better too, because genuine smiles open your heart and cause your body to release mood-boosting endorphins!

Acknowledge good news that you hear. When you read about someone you know winning an award, publishing a book or article, or hear news of a birth or a promotion, take the time to send a note of congratulations or mention it the next time you see that person.

Those are just a few examples of the good news that is all around us. Unfortunately, we mostly tend to talk about bad news instead. It is much more gratifying to talk about and share good news than to share unhappy news or gossip. If you’re going to engage with someone, make it a positive interaction.

 

Give it a try. Resolve to commit regular acts of thoughtfulness in 2015. You’ll have a positive effect on other people’s lives and on your own outlook. There’s no reason why our to-do lists should dictate our moods and relationships!

Anniversary Reflections: The Little Things Are the Big Things

“A soul mate is someone who has locks that fit our keys and keys to fit our locks. When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; we can be loved for who we are and not for who we’re pretending to be. Each unveils the best part of the other. No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we’re safe in our own paradise.”
—Richard Bach

On May 21st, my husband, Barry, and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t talk about how lucky we feel to have found such a wonderful relationship that’s characterized by respect, trust, and communication, and marriage has only made it better. When you feel loved by another and trust in that love, you are able to become your best self because of your partner’s support.

Barry and I have found that we’re able to keep our relationship strong because we pay attention and work at it every day—it doesn’t just happen. Here, I’d like to share some everyday ways Barry and I nurture our relationship. The overarching theme is being present in each other’s lives and making each other our first priority—I can’t emphasize enough how important that is! Turns out, the “little” things aren’t really little at all. They make a tremendous difference.

Barry and I certainly aren’t the “authority” on good relationships—we’ve simply sought out strategies that are proven to work, and indeed, these do work for us.

Check in during the day if you can. A brief phone call or text is all it takes to let your partner know that he or she is on your mind. But the few seconds it takes to make that connection can turn an average day into a great one for both of you. In the midst of your other responsibilities, it’s wonderful when your partner affirms the importance of your relationship. Of course, life is busy, so don’t worry if there are days when you can’t check in until the workday is done!

Make dinner conversations count. I get it—at the end of the day, you’re exhausted and running on autopilot. But if you can muster up the energy, it’s a good idea to sit down over a meal and talk about one another’s days. This may be one of the few times when you’re together, so make it count! Pay attention to what you really want to talk about. Barry and I make it a point to touch on highlights of our days as well as things that might be bothering us. I really can’t stress enough how important it is to have these kinds of regular, meaningful interactions with your partner. That’s because communication develops trust, which leads to and sustains mutual respect. Without trust and respect, you’ll never be able to truly feel safe with another person or build a lasting relationship.

Ask for advice on issues that are troubling you. When you’re facing a challenge at work, your first instinct might be to approach people in the same business for advice. And if you’ve had an argument with a friend, you might ask a mutual acquaintance for insight on how to proceed. In either of these situations (and in many more!), ask your partner for advice, too. He or she may have expertise in areas that you don’t (and vice versa), and will probably also have a different perspective from your usual advisors. Asking for advice makes your partner feel valuable—but even if he or she isn’t able to resolve your concerns, this is still an invaluable way to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in each other’s lives. Just be sure that you focus on mutual support, not criticism. I’ve always really appreciated that when I ask Barry for advice, he is not judgmental.

Verbalize your appreciation. When you’re in a long-term relationship with someone, it’s easy to begin taking him or her for granted. That’s why it’s important to consciously identify the contributions your partner makes and express your thanks. For instance, I often have a busy schedule with work, but I make it a point to prepare one or two home-cooked meals a week for us. Barry does not expect me to do this, though, and always thanks me for cooking dinner. His gratitude never fails to lift my mood. And I appreciate the fact that he appreciates me!

Give “just because” gifts. Buying unexpected gifts for no particular occasion is a great way to let your partner know you’re thinking about him or her. And you definitely don’t have to break the bank to say, “You were on my mind,” either. A book, a card, or a bottle of wine to enjoy together can send a powerful message of love. Personally, if I see great socks or shirts that I think Barry will like while I’m shopping, I surprise him. And I love it when Barry brings home flowers for no special occasion.

Anticipate each other’s needs. Taking care of something before your partner thinks to ask is a great way to show that you care. Once again, this isn’t something that needs to be a big production—little gestures can be very meaningful when they make life easier for your partner. Here are a few simple examples of what I mean: Barry loves to eat blueberries and peanut butter in his oatmeal, so I try to make sure we always have enough on hand. And not too long ago, when Barry had knee surgery, I made sure there was always fresh ice in the freezer so he could keep the swelling down.

Participate in activities you both enjoy. Find an activity you and your partner both enjoy, and whenever possible, carve out time to participate in it together. You’ll have fun while growing closer together. Barry and I enjoy going to see plays and movies, visiting museums, sightseeing around NYC, and more. But no matter what you do together, I recommend assigning this activity a slot on your calendar—otherwise, it might never happen! You know how it goes…life has a habit of getting in the way of our best intentions otherwise. I do want to include one caveat to this piece of advice, though: I’m not advocating doing everything with your partner. Continue pursuing activities that you enjoy and respect your partner’s individual interests, too. (For instance, Barry plays tennis and I don’t. I like to hike, and he doesn’t.) It’s important to nurture and develop yourself as well as your relationship!

Go on dates. Dates don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) stop after you get married. Continue to go out with your partner and do the things that helped you to fall in love in the first place. They’ll help you stay in love, too! On many Friday nights, Barry and I drive out to Brooklyn to eat dinner at one of the restaurants we enjoy. And often, we’ll round out the evening by shopping together.

Get away from it all. Barry and I both love to travel and always have fun on the trips we take together. But while relaxation and enjoyment are always good things, I think our vacations serve another purpose, too. When you leave your distracting, hectic, and (sometimes) hum-drum routines behind, you and your partner are free to focus on each other. Whether you’re on a weeklong tropical vacation or are simply taking off on a Saturday day trip, “getting away from it all” is a great opportunity to reconnect with each other and your goals as a family.

If you’re married or in a long-term relationship, what do you and your partner do to keep your relationship strong and fulfilling? I’d love to read your feedback!

The Art of Listening: Eight Tips to Help You Truly Hear Others

If you were asked, “Are you a good listener?” chances are you’d answer “yes.” Maybe you pride yourself on your ability to stay quiet even when you really want to interject, or maybe you believe that you give sound advice after hearing another person’s problem or dilemma. But as I was reminded recently, you might not be listening as well as you think!

While taking a mindfulness course, I participated in an exercise that required each individual and a partner to take turns telling one another a story. The catch was that the listener couldn’t react at all. No smiling, nodding, changes in facial expression, hand gestures, verbal responses, etc. I was surprised by the impact this exercise had on me. I really felt heard, that my words were being fully considered but not judged. Not having to “play” to the other person was incredibly freeing!

The truth is, there’s a lot more to listening than “just” letting people talk. Listening is actually a powerful skill that must be mindfully developed. When you truly listen to others, you give them the valuable gifts of respect, compassion, and acknowledgment. Becoming a good listener is an enhancement for your life, too, because it strengthens your relationships, helps you to learn more, keeps you in the moment, and shows others how to effectively listen to you.

Here are eight tips to help you cultivate the art of listening:

Eliminate distractions. Your physical environment can play a large role in how well you’re able to listen to other people. For instance, the hustle and bustle of a crowded restaurant might impact your focus and even your ability to hear your companion clearly. It’s not always possible, of course, but if you know that a conversation is important, be proactive about removing anything that might distract you from being totally present. Go to a quiet place, mute your cell phone, and turn off the television.

Turn off your mental track. Try to turn off the constant chatter in your head while the other person speaks. Don’t think ahead to formulate a response or try to figure out how to “fix” his problem, as this will distract you from being in the moment. Just listen. This will take some practice, since it probably goes against your habits and instincts! Try to engage not only your ears, but also your heart and mind, in fully understanding what is being said. Remember, a conversation in which you are primarily a listener is not about your own needs and desires, but the other person’s.

Be still. We are all familiar with the concept of an “animated speaker.” Most of us don’t think about animated listeners, but they exist too! Over the course of your next few conversations, pay attention to the other person’s body language as you talk: arm movements, facial expressions, shifting positions, etc. These things aren’t always, but can be, distracting. So especially when the conversation is serious or important, try to keep your nonverbal reactions to a minimum. You may find it helpful to clasp your hands in your lap and keep your eyes focused on a particular spot, such as the speaker’s face.

Restate what you heard. Especially when something important is being discussed, make sure that you understood (as opposed to simply heard) what was said. Once the other person has stopped speaking, confirm that you are both on the same page. For example, you might say, “So, what you’re telling me is that you think your boss has been avoiding you and you’re afraid you might be laid off, correct?” Or, “You aren’t sure how to resolve the argument you’re having with your spouse and you would like to hear my insights, is that right?”

Save your stories. When someone tells you a story, it’s human nature to want to fire back with your own. You know how it goes: “That’s so funny, because the same thing happened to my cousin one time…” Or, “I know exactly what you mean, because I was in a similar situation several years ago at my former job…” However, you need to suppress the impulse to respond this way, because it swings the conversation back to you. You may think you are connecting by finding common ground, but from the other person’s perspective, you’re downplaying the issues or concerns she has just laid on the table. Instead, stay focused on the point your companion is trying to make or the problem she is experiencing.

Ask how you can help. Especially if you’re talking to a friend or loved one who is going through a difficult time, you may want to find a solution or lessen the other person’s pain. However, keep in mind that sometimes what people need most is to unload and be heard, not to be fixed. That’s why I recommend explicitly asking the other person what he wants from you after he has finished talking. If your companion asks for your help or advice, give it. But don’t be surprised if you hear, “I just needed someone to listen. Thank you.” The fact is, engaging with other people’s feedback, especially when you’re upset, worried, or emotional, is exhausting. In my personal life, I find that I’m most honest and transparent with friends who just listen.

Be honest. From time to time, you may find yourself listening to someone who has the facts wrong or who is out of line. If this person asks for your feedback, how should you respond, knowing that she won’t like what you have to say? It’s not always easy, but part of being a good listener is being honest. You can’t condone the other person’s bad behavior or lie to them just to keep the peace. Be gentle, but tell the truth. In most cases, the other person will ultimately respect you for your honesty.

Keep it to yourself. Even if you think a conversation wasn’t important, be careful about whom you share it with. One of the most important aspects of listening is being trustworthy. This point may seem obvious, but the truth is, it’s often all too easy for your mouth to get ahead of your mind in conversations. And once you’ve developed a reputation as a gossip, it’s hard to repair. That’s why it’s important to stay mindful even after you’ve finished speaking with a particular person. You need to demonstrate that your friends and loved ones can feel safe with you, that you won’t spread their concerns around your social circle or judge them.

Overall, keep in mind that the art of listening revolves around being interested, not interesting. When another person is confiding in you, your primary role is not to be entertaining or even to offer solutions—it’s to show your companion consideration and respect.