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4 Magic Words for Family Conflicts Over the Holidays

We all thought Covid would be behind us by now. We were wrong. The disagreements over vaccinations and ongoing political divisions will likely be alive and well at many of our holiday tables. We’ve heard clients consider avoiding extended family over the upcoming holidays for this very reason. If that is your mindset, please reconsider. See the upcoming holidays as an opportunity to learn how to handle yourself in the face of disagreement.

Many of our clients say they do not want to leave family members with the impression that they are taking their toys and going home because somebody disagrees with them. Even if your only motivation is not giving family members that satisfaction, keep reading. Dealing with people who view the world differently is something we have to address for the rest of our lives. The advice here applies to conflicts with anyone.

A clarification is probably necessary in terms of what topics we believe you should avoid. We are in the camp recommending that people avoid notoriously combative topics such as politics, vaccinations, and religion over the holidays. If you know the topic is going to generate conflict, why bring it up? Recognize that some people bring those topics up because they like a fight. Some people are energized by conflict. If you sense that is the motivation, it’s better to steer clear of the entire conversation. You can simply say, “I don’t talk politics with people I love“ or “I am postponing controversial conversations until the new year”.

But sometimes, you care enough about the people to try to understand what they truly believe and where they are coming from. It is a sign of respect in many families. Ideally, you focus on understanding your family member’s position and viewpoint without criticizing it. You can say, “I can understand why you view it that way even though I view it differently.“ Of course some family members get stressed if you don’t see the world the same way they do. That’s when conflicts usually arise.

We often help clients prepare for difficult interactions such as this. Sometimes we help them with a script they can use for challenging discussions. We have whittled down this script to four magic words. We want you to use these words whenever a difference of opinion is starting to become an argument. The magic words are, “We see this differently.“ That’s it. It’s that simple. Those words suggest that you don’t see any benefit in arguing about it. Those words suggest resolution is not going to occur. Those words suggest it’s okay not to agree. It’s okay to see things differently. You might find you have to say it twice to be heard. If somebody keeps emphatically arguing their position, you should feel free to keep repeating those four words. You can add, “It doesn’t feel productive to keep disagreeing.” or “Neither one of us is going to change our positions.”

We would like everyone to approach the holidays with an attitude of connection. The last two years have been difficult for all of us. You don’t have to agree with people to love and respect them. We encourage you to keep that attitude going into the holidays. Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Unsplash

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