5 Lessons Gleaned from a Holiday Gathering

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I hope you all enjoyed your holidays and wishing you a healthy, happy 2015.

Exhilarating/trying as the holidays can be, we can use them as a learning opportunity. Here are five lessons I learned from the large family/friends gathering I hosted last month, which can help in all communications settings.

1. Be clear when asking for something.

Whether it’s expressing what you’d like as a holiday gift or asking for help preparing for the party, be specific with your request unless you don’t mind some well-intentioned but off-the-mark offerings.

I tell speakers to make their requests of their audience specific, measurable and time-bound. “ Would you please defrost the cake now and bring it upstairs by 5 PM?” meets those criteria as does, “Take a look at the data, speak with your CEO about it and I will call you on Friday to discuss.” In the case of the party, I could just say, “Can you help out?” but their idea of what and when would be helpful and what I actually need might not align. Bottom line: people can’t read your mind. Give them the chance to succeed by letting them know exactly what you want.

2. You catch more flies with honey.

When dealing with touchy relatives, friends, (colleagues or employees,) you’re better off being pleasant and respectful, even when – or especially when – delivering bad news or making a difficult request. Say something flattering (but true) or show your appreciation. It goes a long way.

Front load requests with a positive reflection about the person. Frame request as what to do, not what not to do, and focus on what people are doing right, not on their deficits. No teenager likes to hear their parent discuss their academic shortcomings with relatives. But a reflection of how well Sam is doing on the track team and in the chorus followed by, “he’s working on improving his grades” can express the same idea while motivating Sam to keep up the good work.

3. How important is it?

Sometimes it feels critical to win an argument. We know we’re right and we want the other person to acknowledge it. But is it really so important? The saying, “would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?” comes to mind. You don’t win points with relatives, colleagues or bosses by constantly arguing or always being “right.” Sometimes it’s just better to agree to disagree. If you really want to feel good, step back and say, “You may be right…” and watch the tension disappear.

4. At a loss? Ask a question.

When you feel awkward with a newcomer to the group or you’re in a business situation with a new client, ask a question. People love to talk about themselves. If you ask a genuine question about someone and really listen to the response, you can follow up with another relevant question and listen again. When someone has told you about themself, they tend to feel closer to you.

My sister-in-law asked the new girlfriend of family friend about herself and listened attentively. Besides getting what she considered to be a little “too much information,” my sister-in-law erased any awkward feelings she had with the newcomer. Added bonus: she made the woman feel comfortable and welcomed.

5. It’s all about teamwork.

Clean up was practically effortless when four of us were pitching in. Each of us silently gravitated towards a task of our choosing and together we worked like a well-oiled machine. The food was stored, dishes washed and put away and doggie bags were made before you could sing a verse of Auld Lang Syne. When labor is distributed and people do what they do best, the team can work together efficiently, and the team members can feel good about their contribution.

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