Going home for the holidays can be a challenge for many. We’ve all heard stories about chaotic holiday events that turn family disagreements into verbal Armageddons. Some of us may have even experienced them.
I may be an optimist, but I believe most people go “home” to reconnect with the people they love, not to start a familial version of World War III. But it can be a challenge to navigate the potential minefield of diverse personalities and opinions, combined with family baggage.
To help you avoid the pitfalls here are six tips for more peaceful family communications. Here’s hoping, if you’re gathering with family soon, these will help you enjoy your holidays, and not wish you’d stayed home instead.
6 Tips for More Peaceful Family Communications
1. Focus on Gratitude
No matter your family situation, when you put your focus on gratitude for whatever you may have to be thankful for, it changes your mindset going in. When preparing for your family event, spend some time each day leading up to it reflecting on good memories, on the positives in the relationships, and other things you are thankful for. Gratitude doesn’t fix everything, but it can help us to focus on positives instead of negatives.
2. Choose to tread carefully with sensitive subjects like politics and religion
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” I don’t believe it’s true. I do, however, believe in being thoughtful about it. You’re not likely to sway anyone to your point of view in a conversation. And you shouldn’t feel the need to hide your beliefs. But be mindful in your debate. Is being “right” more important than your relationships? Only you can answer that question.
In the meantime, here’s a guide to discussing those sensitive topics peacefully. This is written for the workplace but can apply just as well to family and social situations.
3. Remember the golden rule
Speak to—and about—others in the way that you would like to be spoken to—and about. If you don’t want to be the featured item on the family gossip menu, don’t put anyone else there either. You may need to gently redirect, or even step away from the conversation if it turns to gossip.
4. It’s ok to set boundaries
Just as it’s ok to step away from gossip or other sensitive topics, it’s ok to set boundaries around any other topic of conversation as well. You do not have to endure criticisms of your life choices or personal beliefs. Part of ensuring a more peaceful family communication is protecting your own peace. When a redirect doesn’t work, it’s ok to say something like, “I’m going to excuse myself from this conversation,” or “This is not a topic I want to discuss.” And follow through.
5. Listen more than you speak
When you focus on listening instead of replying, you can listen not only to the words being spoken, but to what isn’t being said. This is often equally, if not more, instructive in understanding others.
6. Seek common ground
Regardless of the topic, try to shift potentially controversial conversations toward points you can agree on. There may not be many, but finding common ground can go a long way toward building a more positive relationship—or even just avoiding a knock-down, drag-out family fight.
If you are spending time with extended family or even a friend circle this year, I hope these 6 tips for more peaceful communication will help you have an event you can look back on fondly. The tone and tenor of family conversations can go a long way toward building up or tearing down what should be our closest relationships.