Keep the peace this holiday season with the Martlet’s guide to managing holiday conflict
As the holidays approach, many of us look forward to moments of togetherness and joy with relatives, friends, and our community. Traveling home for the winter break can offer welcome respite after a stressful exam season.
However, the holidays can also usher in spirited discussions or disagreements, especially in today’s charged political climate. The close quarters of family gatherings, increased consumption of alcohol or other substances, disrupted schedules, and even financial burdens can leave us feeling on edge. We might feel more ‘bah humbug’ than ‘rainbows and hugs.’
Navigating conflict is an art, but with these helpful tools, you can keep the peace this holiday season — even when your Uncle Paul launches into a political debate over turkey dinner!
Approach conversations with open statements
When approaching a difficult conversation during holiday gatherings, consider using open questions to have a more empathetic dialogue.
Missouri State University interviewed communications expert, Dr. Erin Wehrman, who recommends keeping an open mind even when you fundamentally disagree. According to Dr. Wehrman, open questions can avoid eliciting defensiveness from the other party, which “often escalates conflict.” She suggests asking, “Can you tell me more about that?” In addition, this approach allows you to deepen your understanding of the other person.
Set clear expectations
Sometimes we want to address a difficult discussion with a relative or loved one. Though it might feel unnatural, articulate some ground rules before you begin.
In an interview with Salon, Dr. Jonathan Golden, recommends setting out terms for communication. He said, “If there’s a history of these types of caustic interactions at the table, then it’s pretty wise for someone to say, ‘Okay, why don’t we all try and do this a little differently this year? Why don’t we see if we can have some ground rules for talking?’” He suggests very simple guidelines such as taking turns to speak or agreeing not to raise voices.
These rules also allow you to check in with yourself during the conversation and make sure you are remaining respectful. You can always walk away from the discussion if your friends or family members do not keep to these boundaries.
Set time limits
Holidays can be overwhelming, and we can feel either guilty that we aren’t spending enough time with loved ones or a sense of obligation to do more. Consider reducing the time you spend at family gatherings and around others.
Try to plan out some solo time during the day. Offer to take the family pet for a walk or head out to the local store and stock up on last-minute ingredients. Better yet, volunteer out in the community. Food banks or homeless organizations often need extra help during the holidays, and volunteering helps you make more connections.
In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Tracy Hutchinson recommends actively limiting exposure to those with “high-conflict personalities” (HCP) . These people tend to act with self-interest, show a lack of empathy for others, and engage in behavior patterns that leave people around them feeling hurt. If someone in your life has a HCP, consider setting a limit on how much time you will spend with them. Hutchinson even recommends keeping this number in mind as a comfort and a reminder to yourself.
The holidays are stressful, and can bring out our emotions. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 52 per cent of Canadians report feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation during the holiday season. Taking advantage of some self-care strategies such as meditation, journaling, exercising, or spending time in nature can help you rebalance and manage overwhelming holiday moments. If you need to decline an invitation for your own mental well-being, do so.
The holidays come just once a year and offer us all much-needed rest from studying or work.
If you are experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety or having difficulty with relationships, UVic Students can call Support-Connect, anytime (24/7) from anywhere in the world. (International: 1-250-999-7621, North America 1-844-773-1427)