Less ‘Grinching’ and Grumbling | 3 Steps to Surviving Christmas with the Family

Much earlier this year, February in fact (where is the time going?), I wrote a 2 part blog post series on communication – Active Listening and Speaking to be Heard.

Christmas seems like the perfect time to remind you of these tips, as we all know what happens when too many family members are squished around a dinner table, or cooped up in the same house for too long.

We’ve all had these uncomfortable ‘conversations’ that can feel more like a badly handled interview on a politics show. What can start out as innocent attempts at making conversation – usually boring questions about work – can end up feeling more like a light probing at best, or an interrogation/intervention at worst.

And what typically happens in these situations? Defences go up and the mood goes down.

So I thought now was a great time to remind you how to handle difficult conversations like a pro. Here are 3 steps to help you glide through the drama with ease.

Step 1

This is the simplest step once you’ve gained some experience at it, but the first time you try it, this will feel like a really big ask.

What am I going to ask you to do? I’ve got you wondering now, I bet…

I simply want you to take the emotion out of whatever situation you find yourself in. If that sounds really hard, then try looking at it this way.

This is really about perspective. So for example, if you find a family member pressing your buttons, try to look at the bigger picture.

Maybe this family member has his or her own ‘stuff’ going on?

Maybe they are from a different generation and what applied to them doesn’t apply to you, but you can humour them for a few days?

Perhaps the person annoying you means well, and perhaps they don’t, but their ‘stuff’ is their stuff and you can let it wash over you.

It might feel hard at first, but when you can remove your emotion from a situation, and remember that other people’s opinions and attitudes are nothing to do with you, then everything becomes a lot easier.


Step 2

The second thing I would do is to use some active listening skills to let that person speak a bit more.

Speak more?! Yes, I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. If they are already annoying you then this might seem odd, but here’s the logic. If they don’t get to say their piece fully, they will likely simmer on it for days, letting out small passive aggressive comments here and there.

So if you want this conversation over with, the shortest way to get past this is to go through it.

Active listening is a simple skill that allows the other person to feel truly heard. It’s amazing for relationship building. The biggest points to know are:

  • Hear them fully without interruption before replying.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Ask open questions, such as “can you explain a bit more?”

For a full briefing on listening like a pro, head to the original blog post here.

Step 3

Okay, now it’s your turn to speak! I know you’ve earned it at this point, but do be careful how you handle this part – it’s make or break as far as having peace for the rest of your holiday goes.

I call this part ‘speaking to be heard’, but it’s not about getting on your soapbox with a megaphone. It’s about effective communication.

There are some great communication tips on this blog post about Speaking to be Heard, but if I can give you the most important tip here, it would be this.

Make your reply about yourself, never about the other person!

I can’t stress enough how much this works in your favour. Let me give you an example. If your relative (or whom ever you’ve just actively listened to) has been ‘making’ you feel a certain way, you need to reframe that to be about yourself, never about them.

The reasons are obvious; firstly it will make them defensive, and secondly, owning your own feelings shows emotional intelligence (and makes you look very calm and in control).

So try replacing “You make me feel like…”

With something like “I’m uncomfortable about…”

You get the idea!

At the end of the day, if you are keeping things in perspective then nobody can truly ruin your holiday other than yourself. None of us can control other people, but we all have the power to influence those around us by setting a good example, and by rising above drama rather than feeding into it.

Wishing you a very Zen holiday period, and a chilled out New Year!


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