Dr. Jolene Cassellius Erlacher, Trudy Engebretson, chairwoman of the Sandhills Christian Classical School & Cathleen Jones, Director at SummerShine Resort Staffing have an eye opening conversation about inter-generational relationships in the school, work and worship environment.
Dr. Erlacher founded Leading Tomorrow in 2013 with the aim of equipping churches, businesses, schools, mission agencies and other organizations or effective inter-generational leadership in an evolving culture. www.leadingtomorrow.org.
Dr. Erlacher says “I taught writing at our local community college for a couple of years. It always encouraged me to read student essays on who has greatly influenced them. Most of the time, they wrote about family or friends. These influential people were seldom rich, famous, or powerful. They sometimes lived far away or were seen infrequently. Students’ writings about grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings who have greatly impacted them revealed the significance of relationships with family and friends.
Christmas is a time when we often see people who live far away or are busy throughout the year. As a result, interactions during Christmas gatherings can be awkward, forced or uncomfortable. If there is dysfunction or hurt in a family, it makes it even more difficult to have meaningful conversations. Nonetheless, these holiday events provide invaluable opportunities to mentor and encourage. Our attitudes, behaviors, and responses influence and communicate important messages, especially to kids, youth, and young adults in our family circles. So, as we begin this season of celebration, here are a few tips to remember as we seek meaningful interactions this Christmas”.
1) Ask open-ended questions. We often ask questions that produce one word responses. For example, “How is school going?” “What is your favorite class?” After the person responds, “good,” and “chemistry,” there is an awkward pause and the conversation ends. Instead, ask family and friends questions that demonstrate you really care to know what is going on in their lives. For example, “What has been most rewarding or challenging about your studies/sports team/job this year?” “What was a significant decision you had to make this year?” “What are your hopes or goals for next year?” When they respond to your initial question, ask a follow-up question to show you are truly listening and care to know more.
2) Listen more, talk less. Often when someone shares an experience, we immediately want to offer our perspective or tell a similar story from our own lives. While sometimes appropriate, this often redirects the focus from the other person back to ourselves. As much as possible, demonstrate you are truly interested in what is happening in the lives of those around you, and wait for questions from them to invite conversation about your own life and experiences.
3) Embrace imperfection. In families or situations where authentic relationships and conversations seldom occur, trying to engage in meaningful interactions can be a challenge. Sometimes your attempt to show interest in someone’s life will be greeted with surprise or disinterest. Don’t take offense. Building relationships is seldom perfect. It is a important that you made the effort, and that effort will likely stick with the individual regardless of their response to you in the moment.
4) Follow up meaningful interactions. After a sincere conversation, individuals may feel vulnerable or regret that the interaction is over. Following up those conversations can develop trust and demonstrate you were listening and care. It does not have to be elaborate. For example, after a conversation with your nephew about a difficult supervisor at work, text him a couple of weeks later to ask how it is going.
5) Model healthy communication. Sometimes in family gatherings, sensitive topics or interactions occur. How we engage and respond in these situations models volumes to listening ears around us. Make an intentional effort this holiday season to practice grace, love, kindness, and self control that models healthy relational skills to those who are present.
This Christmas, we each have an opportunity to pursue positive and meaningful interactions with family and friends, especially young people who will inevitably take something (positive or negative!) away from watching, listening to and talking with us. These mentoring moments with the young adults, teenagers and kids in our lives may leave a lasting impression, the kind they will write about one day in an essay. Be intentional in your attitudes, behaviors and words…listening, encouragement and love may be the best gifts we give this Christmas!
For the next generation!