Tips for Preventing Inter-Personal Conflict During the Holidays

Holidays breed stress. Contending with crowded stores, long lines, traffic jams, juggling priorities, and worrying about spending too much money often causes our worst personality traits to emerge. And, particularly, when extended family members gather for the holidays, conflict is inevitable. A room with 20 people is a room with 20 different perspectives. The mediators at Good Shepherd Mediation Program reveal their top ten tips to help you prevent conflict and survive the holidays.

  • 1. Stop and think before you respond
    • When Miss L. Toe says something that makes your nerve endings quiver, don’t react quickly. We’ve all said things we’ve regretted afterwards. Before a sharp retort escapes your lips, stop and think. Take a deep breath, count to ten, walk away, do whatever you need to avoid reacting before you say something for which you will be sorry. When fashioning your response, think about how it will affect the other person.
  • 2. Reframe negative thoughts before speaking
    • When you open that beautifully wrapped present from Aunty Climacts and discover a lime-green, hand-crocheted, toilet-seat cover, you may be thinking, “This is hideous!” Before speaking, stop and think. Reframe your negative thought into something that won’t hurt Aunty’s feelings. For example, “This toilet seat cover is so creative! This gift really demonstrates your unique talent.”
  • 3. Keep a sense of humor
    • If Mr. Scrooge says, “May I have some more water? This turkey is so dry, I’m nearly gagging.” Instead of pouring the pitcher of water over his head, you could say, “Of course, Scrooge. Does anyone at the table know the Heimlich maneuver just in case?” Rather than doing something that may escalate a potential conflict, keep a sense of humor.
  • 4. Choose your battles
    • When Granny Partridge criticizes your new haircut, just smile and ask her if she’d like a cup of tea. Sometimes people will say things just to see how you’ll react. By not responding as expected and redirecting the person to something else, you may prevent a conflict and they may stop provoking you because it’s not fun anymore. Many sensitive issues surface over the holidays. When they do, decide what is important to you and let the small stuff go. When it is something that needs to be addressed, responsibly postpone taking any action. Acknowledge to the other person that the matter needs to be discussed and agree on a private place and time to meet that is more appropriate, when you’re not so stressed and you’ve had a chance to cool off and make a plan to deal with the matter constructively.
  • 5. Prepare for conflict
    • If you know that you and Uncle Rudolph end up arguing every time you get together, make a plan. For example, if one of the things you and he always disagree about is politics, decide not to bring up any political issues. If Uncle Rudolph brings up something about which you have a different perspective, change the subject or make an excuse to leave the room.
  • 6. Refuse and defuse
    • When others become angry, refuse to let them draw you in. Instead, use conflict resolution techniques to de-escalate the situation. For example, when Jack Frost gets angry and raises his voice, respond don’t react. Keep your voice soft and steady and your body posture relaxed and in control. State, in your own words, what you heard Jack say. This lets Jack know that you were listening. If you misunderstood him, this will also give Jack a chance to clarify his comments. Paraphrasing helps reduce the  intensity of the situation and gives people a chance to clarify misunderstandings. When you respond calmly, others often follow.
  • 7. Attack the problem, not the person
    • When we get angry, we are tempted to blame the person rather than address the problem. For example, when Bonnie Bordough spills red wine all over your antique lace holiday tablecloth, don’t say, “You clumsy jerk! You always make a mess!” Attacking the person by name-calling and speaking in universal terms (e.g., you always, you never) puts the other person on the defensive and encourages a defensive response. Instead, say something that attacks the problem. “Oops! Red wine stains if you don’t clean it up immediately. I heard that a mixture of dish soap and hydrogen peroxide will get this out. Bonnie, can you mop up the excess to keep the stain from spreading while I get the cleaning solution?”
  • 8. Negotiate based on your interests
    • People get so focused on what they want, they forget why it is important to them. A position is what a person wants (You can’t have the last candy cane. I want it.). The person’s interest is why they took that position or why they need what they want (I need the candy cane to tie on my friend’s holiday present because peppermint is her favorite candy). Most of the time, people will easily tell you what they want, and may even demand it. To prevent conflict, ask questions to find out what’s behind their position (Why do you need it? Why is that important to you?). If you can brainstorm ways to satisfy a person’s interests, you can find a solution that will meet the person’s needs without necessarily giving them what they originally wanted (If I can have the candy cane, you can have the box of peppermint patties that my friend gave me. I can’t eat them because I’m allergic to chocolate.)
  • 9. View conflict as an opportunity
    • Some people perceive conflict as bad. Conflict doesn’t have to be a negative experience. When conflict is managed constructively, it may present an opportunity for you to strengthen relationships, deepen your understanding, establish trust, and promote personal growth. Just changing your paradigm might affect how you respond to conflict.
  • 10. Mediate don’t litigate
    • If all else fails, call Good Shepherd Mediation Program at 215-843-5413. Mediation is a process for resolving conflicts with the help of a trained mediator who facilitates the discussion, gives everyone an opportunity to be heard, and helps disputants search for a meaningful and lasting solution to the dispute.

To find out more about mediation contact Sue at 215-843- 5413.