Empathy is the key to connecting with others, so is it the key to a stress-free and joyful Christmas? Author of new book Softening the Edge Mimi Nicklin reveals 5 ways we can be more empathetic this festive season
Empathy and festivity, this Christmas uniquely needs more empathy than ever before.
There is more that connects these two words than the fact that they rhyme. Christmas is the most anticipated time of the year for so many British families yet this Christmas period is going to be different.
We are coming together in smaller groups, November ended without the usual festive parties flying out from every high street door, and Christmas shopping is happening online instead of seeing us traipse through stores as Christmas tunes spur us on.
empathy is a natural ability we all possess that connects us to those around us
As we enter a period of happiness and togetherness with more anxiety, doubt and exhaustion than ever, emotions will be high. It is this unique reality that means we need more empathy than ever too.
Often mistaken as a skill we are born with more or less of, empathy is a natural ability we all possess that connects us to those around us, allowing us to see the world from their perspective.
At this time of year, as we share our humility and compassion with others, it is our ability to deeply connect with people that allows us to gain in both strength and unity.
We are still mid a global pandemic so whilst that shouldn’t dampen our festive cheer it does mean there are many who need your patience and understand in higher quantities.
So how do we celebrate this year with ever more empathy and humanity with those around us?
5 habits for higher levels of empathy this festive period:
#1 Be patient
Whether you see them in person or via a screen, try and be patient and present with your extended family this Christmas.
Your in laws, your neighbours, strangers that need a friendly face and are celebrating alone due to travel restrictions – whoever you connect with make those people you speak to feel like they are the only person in the room.
when you are talking to them ensure you are using active listening
Whether it’s in person or via a device, when you are talking to them ensure you are using active listening to truly connect with their words.
Phrases like ‘what I’m hearing you say is….’ make the speaker feel encouraged and understood, as well as ensuring you can really hear what is being communicated to you.
Listen up, listen in and try to blur out some of the background noise so you can really connect as people.
#2 Smile more & lean in further
It’s easy to smile lots when things are going well but when tension rises, try to remember that the majority of our communication is nonverbal so being conscious of your body language promotes more calm and connection around you. (Especially when the usual festive banter falls into debate as the 25th draws to a close!)
Lean inward towards your family member (Covid-19 depending) or friend and ensure your body language is open – with uncrossed arms and an encouraging smile and eye contact.
being conscious of your body language promotes more calm and connection around you
These small changes to your stance will go a great distance to creating cohesion between the people in the conversation, whatever the topic.
#3 Tune in to people (as well as the Christmas tunes)
We are naturally wired to empathise, both for individual and group success, and yet so often we spend our time with a group of people, in a shared physical environment, but barely connecting beyond the topic at hand.
This Christmas take an active focus to connect with the feelings and emotions of those around you with a more committed approach to imagining how they feel. Focus on asking questions and really hearing the answers rather than jumping into giving advice.
This will help all of us gain insight into the other person’s reality and ensure we listen to truly understand, and not just to reply.
#4 Tone down the ££ and turn up the memories
Our best memories come from the heart and not from the wallet. After a tough year for all of us let’s focus on our shared experience beyond the gifts and investments we make for the big day.
Creating memories can link to the things we read, the stories we create, the films we share or the music we dance to. Specifically, we know that reading drives our empathy up and allows us (and our kids) to tune into the realities of others in a deeper way.
Our best memories come from the heart and not from the wallet
Fill up this year with festive stories (top budget tip – rather than buying loads of new books you can also download them, listen to them live or stream them on YouTube), pour hot chocolate every night and huddle round your sofa and share stories.
Make this a 2020 tradition that focuses on all that we share and love as humans rather than what we give. Fostering empathy and togetherness starts at home!
#5 Be kind
Kindness is the response with which we react to empathy. Once you have understood another, choose kindness above all else.
It’s been a long 12 months and a little more kindness, a little more often will take us a long way to showing our shared understanding and connection to those around us.
Just like Tiny Tim in the famous festive story, A Christmas Carol, lets focus on empathy and friendship above all else this year – however challenging that might be in any given tense festive moment.
Kindness is the response with which we react to empathy
Via a screen, via a phone or across an open road, empathy is contagious and if we can imbue it with our focus, our body language and our tone of voice we can end this complex year more connected and together than ever.
Tiny Tim managed to turn old Scrooge and get him to feel optimism and empathy, giving the old humbug a second chance at life, so let’s connect together and give Christmas 2020 it’s chance to shine.
It may not be the one we are used to but with more empathy we may just give and receive the greatest gifts we can ever offer each other.
Mimi Nicklin is a globally recognised millennial thought-leader.
For more information go to www.miminicklin.com