There’s no time like the holidays for good cheer and jolly times with family. And the stress that leads to conflict. Since life is short and the holiday season comes around but once a year, here are a professional mediator’s tips for disarming holiday conflict so you can focus on the joy and fun instead.
1. Don’t let yourself get hangry
Maybe you’re hosting and busy taking care of everyone else. Maybe in the whirlwind of holiday travel you don’t eat properly. Maybe you’re fasting in anticipation of the humungous meal ahead. All of these can inadvertently cause you to get hangry … hungry + angry. Your brain needs energy for good self-control and glucose is one important source of that energy. Read more about self-control and getting hangry.
2. Get enough rest
The late nights and early cooking mornings of holiday gatherings can mean disrupted sleep patterns. And mom was right: A good night’s sleep is important. Sleep gives you better self-management, crucial when things get testy around you. Didn’t get enough sleep and notice your a little short-tempered when Aunt Betsy’s Newfoundland knocks over your toddler for the second time? Even a nap can help. Read more about sleep, conflict, and self-control.
3. Go for a walk
There’s nothing like a walk to clear the mind. And, it turns out, to help you sort out a problem that’s cropped up. Walking increases oxygen intake, a bonus for clear headedness and stress management. And there’s a bonus if you go for a walk with the person who’s stressing you out: When you’re walking, you’re facing forward together, a potentially powerful, if subtle, alignment. Read more about walking and problem-solving.
4. Take a break
If you feel the frustration building, do everything you can to avoid venting. Contrary to popular myth, venting actually increases aggression. Instead, take a break, get away from the fray, and go sit quietly. Thirty minutes is ideal, but that’s not always possible in the midst of holiday gatherings. Grab what time you can; even a few minutes can help. Read more about calming yourself down.
5. Be a fly on the wall
If you find yourself hot under the collar and the roast turkey is preventing you from taking a long walk or even a break, all is not lost. Mentally visualize yourself up on the wall like a fly, watching everything unfold. You can even do this while basting. This kind of self-distancing gives you a more detached view and helps calm angry feelings, even in the heat of the moment. Learn more about self-distancing to control anger on the fly (hah!).
6. Know the difference between yelling at and yelling toward
When someone else loses their cool and unloads in your direction, it’s good to have this mediator’s trick in your back pocket. A raised voice is a sign that the other person is trying desperately to feel heard and the quickest way to help them isn’t to chastise them for bad behavior, but instead to simply say their point back to them. Read more about the difference between yelling at and yelling toward.
7. Listen more, talk less
You know that old saying, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason? Well, that reason is tension and conflict. It’s seductive to talk more, trying to persuade them to see it your way. Any mediator will tell you to do the opposite: Shut up and listen. Put down the turkey baster and listen. Turn off the football game (unless there’s a large crowd who will never speak to you again) and listen. Read about the right kind of listening during conflict.
8. Remember that conflict can be real but not true
If you’ve had a long history of conflict with your Uncle Al, that history is going to color your every interaction with him (and his with you). With chronic conflict, you’re probably letting your residual memory of past experiences trigger your reaction even when the present circumstances don’t necessarily warrant it. Was Uncle Al really just being manipulative a few minutes ago, or are your past conclusions about him coloring your interpretation? Odds are good it’s the latter, even when you don’t want to believe it. Ask yourself, would a person who loves Al and thinks he’s great see what I saw? Read more about when conflict is real but not true.
9. When all else fails, use rock, paper, scissors
Rock, paper, scissors is more than child’s play. When holiday stress and old tensions prompt trivial disagreements, get them over with so they don’t pollute the rest of your gathering. If a parking lot and a judge can use this game, so can you.
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