In preparing for the upcoming holidays, are you filled with eager anticipation or fear of family?
Is home for the holidays more like hell for the holidays?
Here are some tips to bear in mind to enjoy the event rather than spar:
While you are packing, flying, and/or driving to your destination to meet family, review your reasons for going. Why are you going?
Do you really want to see and spend time with these people, or are you going out of guilt?
- If you truly to want to go, take a few moments and write out your mission for the gathering. For example: “I am committed to listening non-judgmentally, and seeing the positive aspects only of all my family members. I will respectfully disagree with some members, and let it go. I am looking forward to having a breakthrough in my relationship with my family.” Keep that mission on an index card in your purse or wallet or suitcase. You can refer to it if tension builds in the family interactions.
- Know that everyone wants to be loved and accepted for who and what they are. You can turn competition (old sibling rivalries) into cooperation by “crawling” behind the negative emotion someone is displaying, and see what it is they really are trying to get. It is probably attention, acknowledgement, acceptance, love, respect, or connection. It is always positive. No matter how negative the behavior, the need driving that behavior is positive. By seeing that, you can get that person’s need fulfilled in a whole new peaceful way.
- Most long-term relationships and family dynamics are predictable. In other words, you know walking in the door with your casserole and pies who is going to say what, when, and how long it will take before Susie gets offended by Karen and lashes out, or Uncle Bob gets drunk and leaves in a huff. You can trigger a different response and create a different outcome by simply changing one “dance step.” As we all know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. So know that things may be get worse before they get better; however, this is progress. That can be a crucial phase in any change.
- Allow others to have their own truth. Everybody wants to be right. You know you are right, right? So do they! There are ways to disagree respectfully, without making another person defensive, alienated or wrong. The easiest way to create a different dance step is with a simple “I’m sure you are right.” Because the truth is, in their world, they ARE right. Just like you, in your world, are right for you.
- Here are some great lead-in phrases that will allow you to respectfully disagree or engage in a healthy debate without polarizing another person: “Just to play devil’s advocate…” or “Because I know how open-minded you are to learning and being challenged, let me share X with you…” or “I could be wrong…..many times I am…..but my understanding is that X…”
- Remember, it is the way you say it more than what you say. Tone of voice speaks volumes. No one can hear what you are saying if you are sarcastic or angry. All they really hear is: “You are wrong. You are stupid.” Just a little isolating! Watch your body language, too. If you sit or stand in a closed position (arms crossed, eyes darting, slumped shoulders, etc.) you are in a non-receptive position for communication.
- Always start with “I” statements and express how you feel. For example: “I feel X when you X.” If you start sentences (like most upset people do) with “You never….” or “You always X….” or worse, swearing/name-calling, they will be on the defensive and tune you right out. All they can think of after that is making their own case. If you share how you feel, they must honor that and hear you. Feelings are not facts. We all have them, are entitled to them, and no one can argue that. The best way to drain negative emotions is to identify them, express them, and let them go.
- About a third of upsets are caused by withheld communications. Many people are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, so hold it in. Nice try, but that never works. Unexpressed feelings fester with time, like any other unattended wound. Or, they turn into gossip…..feelings that are delivered to the wrong parties! Know that it is MUCH more hurtful in the long term not to express something difficult, than to withhold it out of diplomacy. Learn to ease into difficult conversations with key terms like: “I’m really nervous/uncomfortable about telling you this, but….” or “This may be difficult to hear, but I must tell you that….” or “I know you would be much more hurt if I did not tell this, so here goes…..” Remember to choose a time and place that feels safe to you both. Sit or standing in an open and receptive position. Make eye contact, and speak in a soothing voice. Let people know what you need, or want, or what does or does not work for you in a given situation, as opposed to telling them how and why they are wrong. For example, your father-in-law is glued to the football game on TV all day long, ignoring all family members. Instead of screaming at him (again): “Turn the !@#$*!@#$ TV off! That is just rude!” Try saying: “Honey, I know how much you love football. What will work best for us all to really enjoy Thanksgiving together, is to perhaps TIVO a game or two, and everyone who wants to watch it with you after dinner, will do so. What do you think about that?” This honors his love of the game, and his participation in the family dynamics. You also leave room for negotiation.
- 93% of communication is delivered through our senses. So, you see, really your words are the least important facet of communication! That being said, you still want to choose your words carefully. That in combination with an open, relaxed body position, eye contact, and a warm facial expression can make you a blockbuster of communicative power.
May your holidays be joyful!
Nancy Irwin, PsyD, C.Ht, is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.