The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. ~William James

Are you dreading one more holiday season with your extended family? Do you just know that Aunt Irene is going to badger you about why you aren’t married yet? Or, that your mother in-law will treat you like you aren’t good enough for her son? Or maybe it’s the strained relationship with a sibling over something that happened years ago.  I could come up with hundreds of scenarios, but I’m sure you have your own holiday conflict menu to pick from.

So, how do you get through the holidays without arguing with someone, playing peace maker, or tearing out your hair?

Why the same issues every time we get together?

Usually, the reason the same conflict issues come up over and over is that the issues and feelings about them aren’t dealt with as they come up.  We don’t communicate about them when they first appear, we hold our feelings inside, and we let them fester until the pile gets so high that it is no longer a little issue, but one that causes stress and conflict.

Here are my 5 tips for dealing with holiday conflict:

1. Prepare in advance

Think through the possible scenarios in advance.  Visualize how you want to respond.  Take a minute to meditate or pray – I like to pray that the day will go well and that I am giving wisdom to do the right thing (or at least not make things worse).  Show up with a calm and “prepared for anything” attitude.

2. Pick your battles

When potential conflict appears, decide: Can you let it go? Or do you need to deal with it? Is it your issue to deal with? Or should you butt out? If you do need to have a difficult conversation with someone, see 6 Steps to Handling Conflict Well.

3. Don’t overindulge

I know that “the holidays” are synonymous with overindulgence but do think twice about that. Don’t drink too much alcohol, coffee, eat too many sweets, get overtired, or do anything that keeps you from being alert, reasonable, and present.

4. Be respectful

No matter how you feel about the situation, be respectful of everyone – even those you don’t particularly like.  Sometimes that means doing a lot more listening than talking.  Try listening at least 2 times longer than you talk in each conversation you have that day.

5. Model good behavior

You can only control your behavior, so make sure it’s good! Display behavior that others may follow and that doesn’t add any stress.  And you’ll be teaching future generations how to behave in similar situations.


Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of several books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.

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