I bet every single one of you can remember at least one awkward holiday meal ruined by tactless family members, heated political debate, or the airing of past grievances. Even the happiest, most peace-loving families can begin to show a few cracks over the pumpkin pie.
And just think, we get to do it all again this month for Christmas!
When it comes to conflict, this is a tricky time of year. A few extra glasses of wine, a few too many late nights, hours spent trying to juggle gift buying, guest bedroom cleaning and fancy food prep leave us exhausted, cranky, and a little too quick to react to things we can usually let wash over us.
Add to that the pressure of spending intensive periods of time with family and the pressure to be joyful and serene — because, you know, it's the holidays — and you have the perfect recipe for stress and strained conversations.
It may feel as if arguments over the festive dinner table are as much a part of the holiday season as turkey or eggnog, but trying out a few mediation-inspired tricks over the next few weeks could well stop this tradition in its tracks.
1. Don't expect the worst.
It's all too easy to approach the holidays with crystal ball in hand. You just know that your mother-in-law will cause an argument between you and your spouse, uncle Bill will make an offensive comment about your career, and your teenager will be sulking about something.
So you're already on edge, tense, and poised for a fight. You've rehearsed these arguments in your head and hey, you've even thought of a few good comebacks. The problem here is that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy and if you're expecting arguments, it's guaranteed you'll find plenty.
This year decide to leave the past where it belongs; refuse to let past holidays dictate how this one will play out. If you decide in advance to have a peaceful family reunion, it'll be much easier to overlook the potential for conflict.
2. Step into their shoes.
Try to consider the intention behind the comments or behavior you find upsetting. It's likely that your friends or family members really don't mean to offend you. Perhaps they're the type of person who enjoys a good political debate and finds it easy to move on quickly — and don't understand that you struggle to do the same. Or maybe they don't realize that certain topics are guaranteed to push your buttons.
Cultivating empathy for other people and trying to see the world from their perspective can go a long way to helping us react in a more measured way. You don't need to agree with them, but it is important that you try to understand them, instead of pushing to be understood.
3. Choose your reaction.
Even if certain comments are intended to offend (hey, some people just enjoy pushing your buttons!), you can decide not to let it get to you — your reaction is the one thing you can control in these situations. Check in with your emotional energy and if you're struggling, don't hesitate to remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes until you've regained control of your emotions.
4. Be aware of relationship dynamics.
We all fall into patterns of behavior that shape our relationships. If these patterns tend to be negative, it can be a good idea to address that head on, before the festivities are in full swing.
Have the conversation. Name the dynamic. Decide together to change it. Once you've defined the problem, it becomes easier to solve it; you can make a pact to avoid the situations that usually trigger arguments or decide in advance who is going to take on which role. If Christmas Day is usually spent fighting over who's going to baste the turkey or who's going to entertain the kids, make a plan of action before hand, at a time when you're all feeling calm and relatively unstressed.
5. Focus on healthy communication.
At this time of year it's incredibly easy to let healthy communication fall by the wayside. We're busy, we're multitasking, and we find ourselves only half-listening to our spouse as we write out our grocery lists or trawl Amazon for Christmas gifts. Even though we all know just how frustrating it is trying to talk to someone who has half an eye on a screen.
When someone is trying to talk to you give them your full attention. Put your cell down and really listen to what they're saying and make sure you've understood their point before you formulate your response. You won't always be able to agree but actively listening to each other and giving considered answers can often mean the difference between finding a compromise and all-out war.
The holiday season is a time for love, for kindness, and for peace — just not when it comes to our nearest and dearest! Let's make 2018 the year we change that tradition for good.
Here's to a happy, calm, and conflict-free holiday.
Following these tips will help put the calm back into Christmas but if your conflict goes beyond holiday stresses, you may need some extra help to find your way through. If you're going through a tough time, let me help. Schedule a call with me here.