Dealing Peacefully with Difficult Holiday Situations

 In Blog, Effective Dialogue, News

(Time to read: ~ 3 minutes)

At this time of year, many of us get together with people who push our buttons.

In this post, I share my 4-step recipe for how to enjoy the experience – or at least get through it without creating an embarrassing story that gets repeated at future holiday gatherings! 🙂

The key ingredient in the recipe is one key question that you can ask yourself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning…

(This post is an updated version of one of my most popular articles from two years ago. I’m finding it a great reminder! I hope you do too…)

The 4-Step Recipe for Difficult Interactions

1) Pause

This can be a very tough choice to make. Because as soon as someone says or does something that triggers me, a very powerful urge arises to do something!

The problem is that the kinds of things my body is primed to do (like fight) are not helpful at a holiday party. Every time I’ve chosen to take action from this “do something!” energy, I’ve ended up regretting it.

A friend of mine calls this step “Stop”, but I haven’t found that helpful – it’s been more like a red flag in front of a bull. “Stop!?! Don’t you tell me what to do! I’ll do whatever I want…. !”

But “Pause” or “Let’s pause” is like a gentle, friendly hand on my arm. I can feel the caring support in it.

2) Breathe

I’ve noticed that the first thing I tend to do when someone pushes my buttons is to hold my breath. So this is a very helpful reminder.

It’s also very helpful at a biochemical level – supporting activation of the parasympathetic part of our nervous system – the part that helps us relax and be calm.

Some people combine these first two steps into one: “Pause and Breathe”. But I find that separating them helps me do both better. It’s like one is an inhale and the other is an exhale.

3) Ask the Magic Question – Silently

“What is it about this that bugs me so much? What am I wanting?

In this step I take my attention off the other person and turn a curious microscope on my own reactions. And I keep asking the question until I have a sense I’ve gotten to the root cause.

This can be a fascinating exploration.

4) If Challenged, Seek Easy Connection

Of course by putting my attention on my own inner experience, I’ve stopped listening to the other person.

At some point they may notice and make a comment about that, like “Are you listening?” or “Did you hear what I said?”

At this point, I may say something like “I’m sorry. Something you said early on – it struck a chord in me – and I’ve been contemplating the implications ever since.”

Who wouldn’t want to be that thought-provoking?

If they ask what it was they said, I’m likely to respond,

“Unfortunately I don’t remember exactly – it led to such a long and complex chain of connections.
Speaking of connections, did you ever see that TV series with James Burke?
What did you think of it? …
What’s your all-time favourite program?”

The point of the redirection at the end of this sample response is simply to invite conversation onto a topic that I hope will be more easily connecting for us.

I encourage people I work with to pre-prepare their own response for these kinds of moments – something that will feel easy and natural. And to practice saying it out loud, so they can “smooth out” any rough edges.

You might prepare different “redirect” topics for different people.

Decide later whether to talk about the trigger

At some point we may want to talk to the person who triggered us and ask for their help to make connecting easier (e.g., by changing certain things they say or do). But this is not the moment to try to do that for two reasons.

  1. This type of conversation is best done one-on-one, without other people around who may interrupt at an awkward moment.
  2. Asking someone to change something that they do – in a way that is genuinely connecting and thus likely to “work” – takes a good deal of inner preparation. More preparation than can be done by most of us “on the fly” at a holiday party.
    For example, ensuring we’re not coming to the conversation with a belief that they “should” change or they “should” know better.
    Because these beliefs create a barrier that almost guarantees long-term failure, damaged relationships – and even more difficult interactions next year.

Want to learn how to peacefully & effectively address the trigger?

I offer various training, coaching and mentoring options to individuals, work teams and couples. Options include both group formats and private one-on-one sessions.

Click here to book a free consultation to determine if there’s an option that will work for you.

Remember to Appreciate What You Can

Each experience has parts we like, and parts we’d like to be different.

I’ve found that when I choose to focus on what I can appreciate, I enjoy my life more.

I wish you a holiday season full of things you can appreciate!


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