In this Season of Presents, Consider the Gift of Presence

It’s the season of holiday cheer. This means warm family gatherings, fun work celebrations, friend luncheons, shopping, wrapping, gift exchanges, more gift exchanges, and even more gift exchanges.

Do you ever feel like the exchanging of gifts just falls flat? Not that the gift is wrong, or that the thought and intention behind the sharing isn’t nice. But as humans, we need a little more.

We need connection.

There’s no better time than the holidays to bring intentionality to your presence and work on connecting – with your loved ones, your friends, and your co-workers at all levels.

If you find yourself struggling with this, consider these three simple actions:

Create Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the most powerful ways to connect with someone: to make the feel recognized, understood, and validated. As humans, we can’t help feeling that connection – it’s innate.

A study from MIT found that very young infants were more likely to follow an adult’s eyes than the movement of their heads.

As a bonus, authentic eye contact helps you become more physiologically aware of yourself, according to a study from the University of Paris. And as leaders, it’s always beneficial to be more self-aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Avoid looking at your watch or the clock.

Don’t do it – not even a glance. If you are in a time crunch, be honest upfront. Let them know you want to give them the time, and with a previous commitment already in place, you might need to seek them out later. (And remember to seek them out later!)

Put down the phone.

This sounds obvious, and it’s been covered in blogs and articles repeatedly. But it still happens. How often have you been talking with someone – in a meeting, in a social setting, or at home – and they glance at their phone. Or worse, you see them swiping their finger to scroll through content. How disconcerting is that for you? Remember that feeling and put the phone away.

Converse with Curiosity

I once heard someone say the only thing worse than not listening is pretending to listen. This is so true. Your eyes glaze over, you give a faint nod or a vague, “mm hmm,” trying to show you are listening, when really, you’re not.

You might be focused on your own thoughts, like what you need to do later. Or maybe you’re thinking about how you want to add your own insight or your own experience to the conversation – you’re focused on yourself instead of them.

You aren’t really listening, and they know.

One of the best practices you can employ is to come to the conversation with a mindset of curiosity. Seek to learn more about the person, their thoughts, and the experience they are sharing with you.

I have found that asking open-ended, empowering questions not only keeps my focus on the conversation, but it also increases my general curiosity stance all-around; which helps to drive learning and diminish judgement.

Some examples of empowering “questions” you can use:

  • Help me understand your thinking.
  • Tell me more about that.
  • What are your choices?
  • What does that mean to you?
  • How else can we look at it?
  • How can I support you?
Cultivate Compassion

Finally, when building your connection with others, practicing compassion can deepen your interaction. Beyond being beneficial to our relationships, it is also beneficial to our overall well-being. Research shows those with more compassion enjoy better mental and physical health, and a study by Stephanie Brown and Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan proposes it may lengthen our lifespans.

It always helps to cultivate compassion by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. And though that may sound easy, there are a few additional steps you can take to not just put yourself there, but to experience what it is like to be in their shoes.

Relax judgment.

Judgment is often seen as looking down on someone, some action, or some thing. But it is much broader than that. It is also the opinion that you would do something better, or even just differently, than what you are hearing.

And while it might sound difficult to relax judgment, if you’re already conversing with curiosity, you have made a significant step toward lessening judgment.

Practice kindness.

At the risk of sounding a little like, “everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten”-ish, kindness goes a long way in cultivating compassion and creating connection. But know that kindness does not equate to people-pleasing. The act of people-pleasing for the sake of people-pleasing will rob YOU of your power and your well-being.

Instead, there are two definitions of kindness from Merriam Webster that I prefer to leverage when thinking about kindness:

  • The state of being kind
  • Treating people with respect

The reason I like the first definition, is because it focuses on a state of being rather than an action (like people-pleasing). Don’t we all already have enough to do? This is a way to shift from doing to being.

And the second definition, in my opinion, flips the idea of kindness from a perception of giving charity to a perception of holding reverence. This causes me to pause and think that being kind is not something that is given but rather, what is deserved.

May you all have a wonderful, restful, and present holiday season with your loved ones!

Kristy Kainrath
About the author

Kristy Kainrath, MBA is a strategic thinker known for her passion in helping others be their best selves through awareness and purpose.
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