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A Two-Step Process To Keep Family Gatherings Peaceful Over The Holidays (Or At Any Time Of The Year)

Hey there, Easy Agers. The holidays are upon us, and that means get-togethers with the family. Whoo-hoo! Personally, I adore my family and I'm always thrilled anytime we get to hang out with each other. But I know that's not necessarily true for everyone.

Even though this episode is coming out right before Thanksgiving, you can use these tips anytime of the year, no matter what gathering you're attending. I want to give you a few ideas to help you lessen potentially volatile situations during family 'gatherings.

The best thing about this is you can do this process before your event. It doesn't take a ton of time.

1. Manage yourself

One of the first things to look at before the event is to figure out what your expectations are. Ask yourself:

  • What are my expectations when I see this person I clash with?
  • What am I expecting to get out of this?
  • What do I want to see happen if I allow myself to engage?
  • If I allow myself to get in a controversial conversation, do I want to be heard?
  • Do I want to change them?
  • Do I want to change their opinions?
  • Do I want to show others how smart I am?
  • Do I want to be right?

It's not my place to tell you how to answer these questions, but I do know that asking these questions will help you become aware of your motives so you can figure out if they're benefiting you or hurting you.

After you figure out what your expectations are, look at past events. What has happened before? Who triggered you the most? What did they say or do that threw you over the edge or upset you or got you really frustrated?

Do this so you can be prepared, and so things don't take you completely by surprise when you're all together. Once you know what your expectations are and what triggered you in the past, ask yourself the biggest question of all of this:

Is this worth it? Is engaging with this difficult family member about this difficult topic worth the results you're going to create?

Because my friend, if this is contentious, the results you create could be anything from making people uncomfortable and creating an awkward environment to blowing up the entire event to the point where everybody starts leaving.

2. Get a plan

A. Focus on the good

Talk about shared interests. Talk about fun memories, "Hey, remember that holiday when grandpa fell in the mud...." Focus on the good stuff.

If you don't have any shared interests or fun memories together, keep things light. Stick to broad, high-level topics like sports or vacations or what they're watching on Netflix.

I once heard an acronym that was designed to get to know the other person better and help keep a conversation going. And it's called TED:

  • T = Tell me...
  • E = Explain to me...
  • D = Describe...

Basically, use one of these TED openers in your sentence to get people to open up a little bit. You'll say, "Tell me a little bit about your vacation," or "Explain to me more about what you do for a living."

These are the things that are going to start engaging people. And when you keep things light, you keep things a little broader. It's a lot easier to help things fall into place.

B. Set some boundaries and limits for yourself

Because friend, there are going to be times when you cannot avoid the person no matter what part of the house you're in. So set these three boundaries for yourself.

1. Limit the interactions. If you do have to talk to this person, offer neutral responses, pull back a little, and keep the conversation middle-of-the-road. Use responses like, "Wow, really?" or "Oh, I didn't know that." As best you can, stay neutral.

Another option is to laugh it off. If they try to bait you, acknowledge them with something like, "After last year, I'm not falling for that again." Keep it light, but don't let them pull you in. The goal here is to not fuel the fire.

Limiting interactions is a "less is more" approach.

2. Limit the time. If things get to be too much for you, walk away. Nicely excuse yourself and walk away.

Go into the other room. Go take care of the kids. Go help in the kitchen. Go outside for some air. Watch the game that's going on in the other room, and sit down with those folks.

Do whatever you can to remove yourself from the situation so you can stay calm and pull yourself together if your feathers got ruffled.

3. Limit your alcohol intake. I don't have much to say about this because friend, you're a grown-up. You're old enough to know how much damage an alcohol-fueled discussion can do. So just...don't. Don't go there. Take it easy on the drinking while you're at this gathering.

None of this is going to take you too long. You don't have to spend days and days on this because you probably already know the answers. You just haven't created the space to think about them.

So grab a cup of coffee or tea, and figure out some of this in advance. Knowing your plan in advance will help you become more aware of your own intentions and put you in the right mindset to handle the conversation before you even arrive. 

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