Twelve Blocks to Listening this Christmas

Are you imaging a happy and stress free holiday season? I’ve been thinking about how to make this happen, and mindful of the need to limit disagreements, I’ve decided to focus here on communication skills, specifically listening skills (very useful if you are an expat and separated geographically).

I’m used to listening intently in the therapy room, but suspect I am not so good at practicing those skills in my non professional life. My husband has been know to say “If you’d be quiet for a moment and listen… “ Oops.

musical christmas

All good conversations being with listening and I guess, any time of year is a fine time to hone our communication skills? The benefit is when we feel listened to we don’t get so cross.

The ancient song Twelve Days of Christmas, is about gifts given on the twelve days running up to Christmas. You’ll remember it goes:

‘On the First day of Christmas my true love sent to me a partridge in a pear tree.’

There are some unusual sounding presents;

‘Twelve Lords a leaping’

In the spirit of that much loved song I would advocate planning, in good time, presents for those important ‘others’ in our lives. To minimize stress, I try and maintain a sense of humour, it can also be a useful device for deflecting those tense moments that can epitomize family gatherings.

With usually far flung family ensconced for extended periods and children subjected to adults, and vice versa, frankly anything that brings harmony to the scene will be welcome. And let us not forget the hours of extra chores most of us embark on at this time of year.

Sadly those enforced hours together, will for some couples, be the end of the line. I’m thinking of the spike in divorce rates immediately after the holidays; the sombre fact is there are more divorces in the New Year than any other time.

However, before I get too carried away and become curmudgeonly, let me state that I do want to be happy and joyful, as befits the season, so to minimise discord would be helpful.

I have compiled Twelve Listening Blocks for this festive season, the hope being that respectful, clear communication will improve relationships, keeping negativity in check.

Have a look through the list and consider what rings true for you. This is not an opportunity to berate yourself, we are all guilty of at least some of these behaviours, its about raising awareness and choosing to stop, if you feel inclined.


  1. You are second guessing what the person is thinking instead of listening fully.
  2. Notice the pull to compare stories, “oh yes that happened to me too”. I’m guilty of this one. At least make sure let the other person finish telling their story first before you tell yours!
  3. Finding yourself practicing in your mind what you are going to say next instead of listening.
  4. Allowing yourself to be triggered and letting your thoughts drift off from the conversation.
  5. Personalising everything the other person says, again, over identifying with your own experience.
  6. Selective hearing, filtering – only listening to what grabs you.
  7. Discriminating, making judgements about the other person without hearing them out.
  8. Problem Solving; telling them what they “should” do. I recommend limited use of the word should. If they ask for advice, make sure they’ve finished speaking first and rather than telling them what they should do, you might want to ‘own’ your words saying “I would … “ that way you won’t get the blame if the advice doesn’t turn out well.
  9. Discounting the other person. For example, by not accepting a compliment when it is offered.
  10. Hanging on to the conviction that you are in the right. Try to be open to the other’s point of view, listening to their perspective.
  11. Trying to outdo the other person by putting them down. Even witty put downs are not funny for the person who is the butt of the joke and can create emotional distance. Placating and patronizing are also subtle techniques we may employ as put downs.
  12. Changing the subject inappropriately, just because you suddenly feel like it. There are times however, when changing the subject can be a way of moving on. For example, when an argument is going around in circles, the option to change the subject can be openly acknowledged “Shall we leave it there?”.

Whatever you are doing in the month of December I hope it is a happy one for you. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog Laura J Stephens in 2014. On Twitter? Join me @LauraJStephens


Messages: The communications Skills Book by Matthew McKay, 2009


2 thoughts on “Twelve Blocks to Listening this Christmas

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