The holidays are meant to be a time of gratitude and connection. However, for some, the holidays tend to be a stressful time marked with irritating, awkward, and sometimes heated conversations. And this year, there might be even more minefields to navigate; in addition to the normal irritants of sibling rivalry, unsolicited advice, and criticism can come strong political and social opinions that can quickly ruin a joyous family gathering. So, how do we help ensure we have a happy and peaceful celebration?
Take Care of Yourself Before Anything
Days before the gathering, be mindful of taking care of yourself. Don't run yourself ragged. Try to get a decent amount of sleep and eat regularly. If you're hosting fewer people than usual this year, simplify your spread or ask others to bring dishes to minimize the amount of work you give yourself. If you don't take care of yourself physically and emotionally, you'll be run down and stressed and thereby less likely to cope with disagreements or tactfully deal with difficult people.
If you're hosting and dreading the thought of arguments, you have the option of setting boundaries before the conversations even start. At the onset of the event, announce that you realize everyone has differing opinions and perspectives and that you would appreciate if they could set those aside for the event and enjoy each other's company.
Don't Seek Change - Seek to Understand
Accept from the start that anyone who wants to engage on a sensitive topic probably has set beliefs that won't change during your conversation. Instead of focusing on changing their belief, take the time to listen to them and try to understand where they are coming from. Dr. Stephen R. Covey said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Instead of mounting your defense in your head while the other person is talking, truly listen to their side. Let them finish their thought and ask follow up questions. This makes the person feel understood, valued, and affirmed instead of attacked. If you honor them with listening, they are more likely to reciprocate. You might not end up changing each other's minds but you'll come away with insight, respect, and an understanding you didn't have before.
Remember Why You're All Here
If you're starting to feel resentful or angry, try to focus on why you all gathered in the first place. Think about what you love about each person. Be present at that moment with the people who you might've missed throughout the year. Put yourself in a state of compassion and gratitude for the experience of having a place to go and loved ones to gather with over the holidays.
Disengage When Necessary
If a conversation is getting too heated, it's time to switch the topic or step away from the person altogether. Don't permit yourself to have a reactive response to an antagonizing family member. That can quickly turn a disagreement into a damaging, full-blown argument. Let the other person know that you've listened to what they had to say and focus the conversation on another subject.
Focus on the Commonalities
Instead of talking about divisive topics, try to steer the conversation towards your shared histories, traditions, and values. This will help everyone remember that there's a lot of rich, meaningful memories between all of you. Laughing and reminiscing together will deepen your connections and create even more wonderful memories.