Be Careful What You Hear During the Holidays

By Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD.

The holidays can be one of the most stressful times of year. Family gatherings, busy schedules, entertaining, and the bustle and pressure of expectations around gift giving. In this training excerpt, world-renowned peacemaker and author, Marshall Rosenberg, gives frank advice to keep our compassion alive by shifting our thinking.

If you want to enjoy your life, particularly during high stress situations, I would strongly recommend you never hear what another person thinks.

I think you will enjoy life better and you will enjoy other people much better by following this rule. Especially never hear what they think of you. Especially that.

But if you really insist on making life miserable for yourself do this: think of what you are. Think, for example, whether you’re normal or abnormal. Appropriate or inappropriate. Attractive or ugly. Intelligent or stupid.

Every second that you spend thinking of yourself, what you are, I predict you won’t be enjoying life very much. So, if you really want to be miserable spend moments of your life thinking of what you are.

But if you’re really masochistic and want to go even further, think of what other people are. When family members or friends are talking, think in your mind, “wow, they’ve got a big mouth.” When someone makes a comment, say to yourself, “that was inappropriate,” or “they are really unkind,” or even “they are much nicer than anyone else in my family.”

And then, the most wonderful way to make life miserable for yourself is to think of what other people think of you. Listen carefully to every comment about your work, your kids, your outfit, your home, even the good you’ve prepared at the next family gathering. This is sure to make life miserable for yourself.

But do you really want to be miserable? Why go some place ugly when the truth — behind all of those judgments and evaluations — is beautiful? Why hear what a person thinks of you when the truth of what’s alive in them behind it is a message you can truly enjoy?

So, never hear what people think of you. Instead, hear what they are feeling and needing at the moment they’re expressing those thoughts. It’ll be better for you, and the other person. That’s because by hearing their feelings and needs you’ll find joy contributing to their well-being. And, you’ll of course feel far less stress by not spending moments of your life caught up in what people think of you.

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Anger is a wake up call. It tells me that I’m thinking in a way almost guaranteed not to get my needs met.

Why? Because my energy is not connected to my needs. I’m not even aware of what my needs are when I’m angry. What’s going on in my head is a big judgment about the other person. So, whatever I say is likely to mobilize defensiveness and counter attack.

But, when I stop, become conscious of the judgment and then look beneath the judgment, I can ask myself, “what am I needing that I’m not getting?” Then, there will be a transformation of feelings.

As soon as I get in touch with the need I’m no longer angry. I’m sad, frustrated, irritated, discouraged and I have a need now that I want to get met. When I’m angry I want to blame and punish.

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Conflicts, even of long standing duration, can be resolved if we can just keep the flow of communication going, in which people come out of their heads and stop criticizing and analyzing each other, and instead get in touch with their needs, and hear the needs of others. We then can recognize the interdependence we all have in relation to each other. We can’t win at somebody else’s expense. We can only fully be satisfied when the other person’s needs are fulfilled as well as our own.

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD. is the author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of LifeSpeak Peace in a World of ConflictLife-Enriching Education, and several booklets. He serves as the founder and director of educational services for the Center for Nonviolent Communication.