Dreading Those Christmas Disagreements?

Here are 4 Tips to Help You Manage Conflict Over Christmas

Do Christmas gatherings have you ready to scream?

Christmas time is one of my favourite times of the year.  I love all the coziness, the excited kids, gatherings with friends, and some extended time with my family.  While I look forward to it, I know that for a lot of people this time of year brings stress, and often conflict.

The holidays bring enough stress, so the added stress of an ongoing conflict or a potential one can really put a damper on celebrations.   It can lead to people avoiding events or adding additional resentment to already simmering disputes.  And that sucks. 

You might feel like there’s nothing you can do, so you look forward to Christmas being over and you being back in your own quiet space.  Fear not, there is hope.  There are things that can be done so that you can manage conflict over the holidays.  Christmas isn’t necessarily the best time to try to resolve a longstanding dispute, but it you try to mange it well, you’ll be laying the foundation for resolution in the future.  (Of course, if both of you are up for it and can have a kind and fair discussion, go for it.  Just remember to respect everyone so it doesn’t turn into something ugly.)

If arguments over Christmas time have you feeling like this, keep reading!

Here are 4 tips to help you manage conflict over the holidays: 

  1.  Consider that it might not be about you.

Because our brains are wired to think about what things mean for us, we assume others are thinking of us too.  When we are having a disagreement, we tend to attribute their actions and motives to being about us. 

You’re awesome and important, there’s no doubt about that.  But even still, most of the actions and reactions from others have very little to do with you.  It makes sense if you think about it, how often are you spending your time and energy plotting against others?  We all have our own stuff to get through, our own tough days at work or our own relationship issues. 

So instead of jumping to a conclusion that someone has said something with an intention of hurting you, or that they’ve intentionally slighted you, take a minute to ask yourself what might be going on that has nothing to do with you.

There’s a good chance that they didn’t even give you much thought, they were reacting to something going on in their lives.  I know, how rude of them to not give you any thought….and that might be important to bring up.  But first consider what else might be driving their behaviour, and it will change how you approach the situation. 

Here’s a quick example, Jim’s Mother insists on bringing the turkey from home to his place every year for Christmas dinner and it drives his wife crazy.  She’s convinced that his Mom doesn’t think she can cook and that the turkey is her way of letting everyone know that.  On the other side, Jim’s Mom just really misses getting to cook for her family.  Feeding everyone at Christmas was her way of showing love and she’s just trying to hang on to that even if bringing the turkey from home is a pain in the butt. 

If both sides took time to consider where the other one might be coming from, and what they might be dealing with they would soon see that the perceived slight really wasn’t a personal attack on the other.

Consider that someone’s grumpiness might have nothing to do with you.

 2. Listen to understand, don’t listen for your chance to talk.

When we’re angry what we want to do the most is make people understand our side and to tell us that we are right, we want to lash out and make the other person feel as badly as we do.  Familiar for us all, but if we’re honest it isn’t very productive.

How can you get the other side to come around if you don’t know what’s driving their behaviour?  You’re not going to find out by talking, you’re going to find out by listening.  It’s really listening that is going to let you learn what might be going on with them that has little to do with you.  And when you listen well, most of the time they will follow your lead and do their best to listen to you.  That’s a way more productive way to have a difficult conversation. 

Listen like you don’t know the answer, because you really don’t.  Ask questions to learn, not to make your own point.  As Dale Carnegie once said “Listen first.  Give your opponents a chance to talk.  Let them finish.  Do not resist, defend or debate.  This only raises barriers.  Try to build bridges of understanding.”

 3. Separate the people from the problem. 

Don’t make personal attacks in an argument, it never works.  It’s even worse when you speak in absolutes, like saying you NEVER or you ALWAYS.  If you say to someone you’re not getting along with “You’re always selfish, you never do anything for anyone else”, you’ve done two things.  First, you’ve made them defensive by attacking them personally and that never makes someone want to talk kindly or listen.  Second, you’ve changed the focus of the disagreement from a problem to solve to a chance for them to just give examples of all the times they did think of someone else.  They’ll get fixated on those absolutes. 

It’s ok to disagree, but you can do it without making it a personal attack.  It’s easy to say but hard to do, but once you start doing this, you’ll discover that others will begin to follow your lead.  And if they don’t, remember that Christmas doesn’t last forever and at least you’ll get out of there knowing that you behaved well,

 4. Be kind to your Christmas marshmallow.  And theirs…

At the end of the day, the most important way to manage conflict is kindness and understanding.  For both yourself and the other side.  Don’t speak harshly to yourself, remember that on the inside you’re a sweet, squishy marshmallow.  If you can’t be understanding to yourself, it’s hard to extend that to others. 

And no matter how frustrated you are with someone, or how selfish or mean they seem, deep down they too have a marshmallow.  We all have fears and doubts and love and kindness, and often our anger comes from feelings of hurt and a protectiveness of our deepest self, our marshmallow.  Sometimes others aren’t paying attention to their marshmallow, they don’t honour its softness so they don’t honour yours.  Don’t get into the mud with them, hold both marshmallows with respect and kindness and conflicts will become a little more manageable.  It’s not an easy solution, it can take time and practice, but if over the holidays you at least try, you’ll find that you can manage the conflict and get through the day.

Sarah Turl is the owner and lead mediator at Empowered Restuls Mediation. She loves helping people work through conflict as much as she loves Christmas. If you need help working though a dispute, reach out to see if she is a good fit for you.
mediator Sarah Turl looking at phone

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