Surviving the Holiday Family Smackdown

Thanksgiving and Chanukkah have come and gone. Christmas and the New Year are on the horizon. Other holiday family gatherings have made indelible impressions, and more are looming.

So what are you thinking about as the holidays approach? Are you eager to reunite with family and friends? To share memories and catch up? Are you looking forward to good food and togetherness?

Or are you preparing comebacks, developing ways to defend yourself, devising your escape plan…in anticipation of the Holiday Family Smackdown?

Maybe you think holidays of the past have proven that you just can’t get along with certain members of your family, or you’re dreading the ill feelings that develop every time you get together.

You don’t want it to be this way. You prefer peace and harmony. But somehow, every year brings with it a new challenge for your patience.

holiday-familyI have good news. No matter how mismatched your family members seem to be—or how confrontational some of them have proven to be—you can have an enjoyable holiday filled with mutual respect, and fond memory-making.

Sound too good to be true? Or you’re thinking Burge, you don’t know my family?

Stick with me here. I’ve got some advice that will forever change the way you view holiday get-togethers.


Five Little Words for your Holiday Family Gatherings

There’s no getting around the fact that some family members may fight. We are cut from the same cloth, and often, we clash with those who are most like us because we see them as mirrors to the things we don’t like about ourselves. Add alcohol, fatty and sugary foods, and a disrupted sleep schedule to this formula, and you might as well set a place at the table for a referee.

Or, you can make a conscious decision to be a conversation leader. If you can imagine it, there is a way to speak your own truth with compassion, without sparking conflict. There is a way for everyone at the table to express their opinion…with civility and mutual respect.

Are you ready?

Here’s what you do:

  • When speaking your truth, start with “For me the truth is.” Anything that follows will be protected by those five little words. People may disagree with your viewpoint, but they cannot argue that this is your truth, your perspective, your opinion…because that’s how you presented it.
  • Set a precedent with your tone. 38% of communication is tone. You can say any combination of words, but your tone will change their meaning.
  • Watch your body language. 55% of communication is non-verbal, meaning that when you do things like cross your arms, hold your shoulders high, cross your legs, blink rapidly and avoid eye contact, you are closing yourself off. Plus, if you’re pointing, puffing out your chest, sitting with legs wide or thumbs up, you’re inviting conflict.
  • Before you go to your family event, learn to recognize your own tendencies toward fight/flight/isolate responses. When we’re uncomfortable, we all have inclinations to do one of these three things, when what we should be doing, instead, is interacting from a place of love and learning…staying in it.
  • Use compassion at all times. Any message can be delivered with compassion, regardless of the subject matter. Choose your words wisely, starting phrases with “I can understand,” “I choose to believe differently,” “I feel,” and “Tell me more.”
  • If you’re concerned about retribution, or negative consequences, for speaking your truth, go back over this list again until you start to feel its power.

In order to effectively communicate and earn the respect of our family members, we must not be afraid to hurt others’ feelings—because in truth, you are not responsible for their feelings. You are only responsible for the level of compassion with which you deliver your truth. Some family members may still fight with one another. This is out of your control; not your responsibility, as long as you are communicating with compassion and speaking your truth in the ways I’ve already covered.

It’s not your job to “break it up” or to take sides. It is your job to stand in your own integrity. Accept and celebrate who you are and hold your shape, no matter how many people are trying to pull you to their side. No one has the right to turn you into something you’re not, and it’s their responsibility to realize that you are whole and complete…just the way you are.

holiday-familyGo into that family function knowing that you have nothing to prove to anyone, but that you also have a universal duty to hold your integrity should your truth be challenged.

Truth is a powerful way to communicate. And compassion for others’ personal truths is what makes that communication effective.

As you begin to relate to others in this way, they will catch on. They will see the confidence and compassion with which you interact, and they’ll (consciously or subconsciously) want to mirror that behavior in order to gain the level of contentedness you have. I think we can all agree that will lead to a more productive, enjoyable and peaceful holiday.

Want to learn more about how to survive holiday family gatherings? Then check out my most recent podcast on the subject, Family Holidays: Kill Them Or Eat Them, Part 3. You may also wish to subscribe to my monthly Essence of Being Podcasts here.

Happy Holidays and let me know how it went by joining the conversation on the Essence of Being Facebook page.