Christmas Presence and the Gift of Listening

One of my favorite communication experts is Loren Ekroth, Ph.D who is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.  He sends a newsletter that always has a thoughtful and insightful article.  His article this week is on the gift of presence. You can contact him at

Here is the article in it’s entirety.  I hope you enjoy it!

One of the finest, most personal gifts we can give
another person during this season is our presence, by
which I mean our “being present to,” or “being with”
another person. This gift is perhaps most poignant when given to
persons who are older, infirm, or isolated.  For them,
one’s living presence offers the possibility of connection
and validation.  As John Donne’s lovely poem asserts, “No man is an island, separate from the main.”  Still, we observe that many people in our society and world experience the feelings of separateness. Hungry for connection, they hunger for our personal presence.Presence is not intrusive.  It does not push or
nudge or prod or probe.  As well, presence does not
judge, or challenge, or impose. When we are present,
we show up, we are aware, and we extend our awareness to the other with our eyes, our ears, and our intuitions. Presence is hospitable and welcoming.  Deep attention and deep listening are the activities of true presence.When a person’s presence is fully available to me during a conversation, I feel touched and appreciated. Even when only I am the one bringing the presence (because the other is troubled or distracted),  I still experience similar feelings.Everyone has a story to tell, and when we ask others
to share a personal story, they are almost always
invigorated.  I like to ask people to tell me about one of the most memorable Christmas experiences they’ve ever had.  As they recall and tell this personal story, they relive many of the feelings of that experience, and as I listen carefully, I vicariously share in their personal history.

(Now as I write this I think of a Christmas in Ferrara,
Italy in 1960, walking through light snow with my friends to deliver hand-made Christmas cards to their neighbors.)

During the holidays we have so many distractions
with phones ringing, FedEx deliveries, timers going off in kitchens, office parties, and last-minute shopping.  Maybe this fragmented situation is what makes personal presence so precious at this time of year: It acts as a healing antidote to our seasonal anxieties and disconnectedness.

Some people tell me that they resist being more
personal and more generous during the holiday season,
specifically because it’s expected of them.  I suppose
they have a point.  On the other hand, we can use
the busy season as a clear reminder that at this time –
when old feelings are re-stimulated, sometimes
as “the holiday blues,”  by expressing a generosity of
spirit in being present to others.  This can be just the
right thing to do.

Years ago an old and wise friend told me that
elderly people experience a special kind of loneliness
because they almost always have lots of regrets for
times they didn’t come through in life.  The times
they didn’t say what was needed, the times they didn’t
make the courageous choice, the times they didn’t
seize an opportunity before it passed them by.  When
we are present to these people without judgment,
they once again can feel validated and worthy.

So we can take a breath and center ourselves as we approach family, friends, and colleagues.  Strangers,
too.  (Smile and tell the harried store clerk, “You’re doing a good job, and I appreciate your help.”  Now we are ready to give others the gift of our attentive presence at the same time we give them other physical gifts.  And we’ll all be better for having shared of ourselves.

From The Better Conversations Newsletter by Loren Ekroth. Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2009. All Rights reserved.  Loren Ekroth is the creator of resources like “Better Family Conversation Kit” and “Class Reunion Conversation Kit.” For a free subscription to the Better Conversations newsletter, visit

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