With Thanksgiving less than 2 weeks away, I know there are many people worried about how to engage with their family during the holidays so that the evening doesn’t end with the start of WWIII. I may not be a therapist or professional relationship expert but these are my top 3 practical and experiential tips for smooth family gatherings that I’ve seen work in the past:
- Avoid talking about the “hot” topics in your family. Politics always seems to be on everyone’s list of topics to avoid but besides that we all have issues unique to our own family situation that bring up painful or difficult feelings from the past. And painful topics often lead to differences of opinions and eventually arguments. If a tough topic is brought up try a light-hearted reply such as, “Let’s keep today fun and talk about that another time”.
- Don’t be lured into an argument. It’s easy to be triggered by family but give yourself a pep talk before hand and decide that you will not allow a passive aggressive comment or snarky remark to tempt you to engage. There is a good chance the other person just wants to start an argument so decide ahead that you will be the adult and not throw any gas on the fire. You’re not going to change the other person’s mind (and they won’t change yours) so there is nothing helpful that will come out of you having the last word.
- Seek to empathize. Knowing that someone understands how you feel can completely change the direction of the conversation. Even if you can’t relate to someone’s experience you likely can tap into a similar feeling. For example, if your relative is blaming everyone else because they were recently fired and feel unjustly treated (even though you are pretty sure they deserved to be fired), try to empathize by recalling a time when you felt unjustly treated. It doesn’t have to be from a work scenario but can be from a friendship, relationship or even something from your childhood. The key to empathy is understanding the feeling that the other person is experiencing. Often times once someone feels understood then it diffuses the intensity of the situation and they become calmer.
Family gatherings during the holidays can be a mixed bag of experiences and emotions. Take control this year so you can make the experience a good one.