🎄Christmas. It’s the season of goodwill, generosity and charity, traditionally spent with friends and family. It is also the season for feuds, squabbles and full blown rows. Emotions run high and the potential for conflict grows, threatening to flare up and ruin the holiday.
Christmas squabbles are not new; People who may not see each other from year to year are asked to come together and bond for enforced periods in small spaces. Throw in the extra ingredients of over-expectation, pressure and alcohol, and it’s a volatile mix!
How can we try and avoid those arguments? Isn’t it important that we don’t feel walked over, misunderstood or unheard? How can we get our point of view across, without descending into shouting, insult throwing and for some, even violence?
During my time as a counsellor, I met many clients who experienced issues such as these and the resulting problems this caused with partners, family and friends. As a result, various strategies were discussed to try and avoid small disagreements and misunderstandings flaring up into full blown arguments.
Here are some pointers to try and resolve arguments before they get out of control.
Before you throw yourself enthusiastically into a full blown argument, take a moment to consider what you are arguing about. Have you had the same argument before? Was anything resolved and what happened? Can anything be learned from last time?
Review the language used. One party may be talking about feelings, whilst the other might be discussing actions. These are two different languages. Some people are very practical and will use an argument to try and ‘fix’ things, set out an action plan and resolve differences that way. Others want to discuss how a situation made them feel, they may not necessarily need or want an action plan going forward. It is very doubtful that either one in this situation will understand or “hear” the other.
Resolve not to raise your voice. Give the other person time to put their point across and do not descend into hurling personal insults.
Do not bring up past arguments and issues. Concentrate on what is important in this moment only.
Be aware that it is possible there are some underlying issues. For example, an argument about spending money could have wider implications regarding controlling behaviour, or an argument about unpacking the dishwasher could be about fair division of labour in a household generally.
Consider the other persons perspective, and if this is too hard given the strength of the argument, at least consider what is motivating the other person to need/want to argue.
Pick your battles. Not everything requires a full blown argument. Sometimes it really is more beneficial to compromise in certain cases, in order to have more impact in situations where you feel you really do need to stand up for your position.
Don’t prejudge. Never convince yourself that you know what the other person is going to say next. They may have a viewpoint that you have previously not considered.
Think of victory as a situation where both sides have got their point across and feel heard and understood. Not one where one side feels vindicated and the other humiliated. This will only cause future arguments.
Consider the argument as a opportunity to learn about the other party. Perhaps compromise is acceptable following learning something new. Winning is not everything.
Don’t threaten the overall relationship. This mistake is often made when one party does not feel heard. Raising the stakes this high for added ammunition in the anger of the moment is rarely helpful if the whole relationship is put on the line. The very fact that one party is feeling like this should communicate that things have got out of hand and some cooling off time is required to reinstate perspective.
When you are speaking don’t criticise the other party by using accusatory language such as “You did/said/behaved/thought”. This is inflammatory. Instead, use “I” statements which are much more conciliatory and accepting of your role in the issue.
Be aware of what you say and how you say it in a tense atmosphere where things can get misunderstood very quickly. For example, a helpful suggestion may seen as interfering and critical. The Christmas kitchen can be a volatile area and if you aren’t cooking this year, its probably best to stay out if the way! ‘Helpful’ comments, however well meaning, may send the chef into a full blown meltdown.
Remember that is it not essential for everyone to know how clever/well informed/intelligent you are. It is better to be seen as someone who can talk through issues sensibly, aware that there will always be differing opinions.
If all else fails, a traditional walk on Christmas/Boxing/ New Years afternoon may benefit all. Removing the protagonist from a situation and changing the focus can provide a much needed break, and allow parties to cool down and gain some perspective.
And finally, try and remember we are in season of goodwill, kindness and charity. Arguments will be forgotten quickly enough but fond memories of a time spent with loved ones will be with you forever. 🎄