Customize, Don't Generalize
The word special is so overused that I generally avoid it, but it's apropos for describing the feeling you create when you customize a space, gift, or activity for a particular visitor. Special means "one of a kind," and that's how your guests will feel when they stay at your home.
Years ago, when I was speaking at a charity event, the organizers called me prior to the conference and asked my shoe size. When I got to the venue, they gave me a pair of electric green running shoes, which had probably cost about $5 on the manufacturer's "remainders" table. But this pleased me beyond all earthly reason. I mean, shoes! In my size! Ever since, I've loved buying simple clothing and accessories like beach sandals—in the right size—and setting them on the guest bed for my visitors to discover.
Do visitors really like this, or do they fake delight in order to be courteous? The truth is that the process of choosing, buying, and arranging gifts makes me so happy I don't honestly care. Which brings me to my last empathetic-hosting rule.
Be Generous for Your Sake, Not Theirs
Empathy is all about doing things for another's sake, right? No. Empathetic hosting plays to the guest's needs and wants, but—as paradoxical as this may sound—you do it to please yourself, too. This doesn't mean that you should give your lifeblood to care for your guest and force yourself, by God, to like it. On the contrary: It means that the moment you feel yourself becoming resentful or overburdened, you should stop catering to the guest and begin caring for yourself. Draw the boundaries of your generosity at the limit where your own joy begins to wane. Don't judge yourself for not giving impressively or perfectly.
The Buddha taught that anyone who experiences the delight of being truly generous will never want to eat another meal without sharing it. Opening our homes to the people we care about means sharing the great feast of life: our space, our time, our minds, our hearts. In the end, this approach, ironically, turns out to feel completely selfish. Although empathetic hosting will make your guests feel wonderful, you'll find that no matter how much they enjoy visiting, the person who derives the most sheer joy from this process will be you.
If You're the Guest...
There are a few things you can do to make your stay comfortable:
- Rather than sticking only to your host's schedule, come and go as you please during long visits. Otherwise, you might harbor resentment.
- Make yourself comfortable. Your host can't read minds—if you're cold, grab a blanket. Assume a gracious host would want you to do so.
- Prepare a script that states your needs. Rehearse questions you might need to ask, such as, "Would you mind if I go to bed early?"
The Rules of Hosting the Perfect Party