With Thanksgiving just around the corner, our minds have begun to fill with visions of delicious food, shared laughter, and loving reunions. But at some point less-happy memories of past gatherings also return, reminding us of past conflicts.
How can you minimize the effect of conflict this holiday season?
It helps to acknowledge that conflict happens. It is natural. Each of us is a unique individual with different perspectives and ways of dealing with life. Tension arises from the edges where those individualities touch.
When clashes occur, the first thing we tend to do is make other people wrong. They become the villains, the Bad Ones. We, of course, are the Good Ones. We are innocent, helpless to move forward because those nasty folks are in our way. If THEY would just change, everything would be fine! As long as we see the issue as a battle of good (us) vs. bad (them), there’s no way out. They see us in the same way and the conflict begins to spin out of control. Does that sound familiar?
Fortunately, we can take some simple steps to stop the escalation. We can choose to look at the conflict differently.
A constructive way of approaching disputes is to separate the people from the problem. Step back from focusing on the personalities involved. Shift your focus to the difficulties caused by their behaviors rather than by their characters.
By distinguishing what people do from who they are, you can look at what’s going on instead of who’s right and who’s wrong. You can solve the problem without having to wait for the other person to have a personality make-over.
So how might this look in a holiday gathering?
Using a very simplistic example, let’s say your brother always does the same thing every Thanksgiving: he hangs around in the kitchen as you’re carving the turkey and grabs little pieces from the cutting-board. You hate that! Besides getting in the way during the most hectic time, it’s unsanitary to have him snacking off the platter, and you have to watch that you don’t cut him. What an annoying pain he is! Just thinking of this adds a little feeling of dread to your enthusiasm for Thanksgiving and you may wonder if you want him to visit at all.
How do you separate personalities from the problem? The problem is having someone hovering and darting their hands into the turkey during the last minute preparations. That’s the behavior you want to prevent. Anyone could do that; it just happens to be your brother.
Getting clear on the problem allows you to consider options to fix the problem. Yes, you could ask your brother not to visit, but that seems a bit extreme. Have you ever told your brother you don’t want him filching turkey? He may have no idea it’s a real problem for you, thinking it’s your little shared ritual. If you tell him it bothers you, he may happily and apologetically stop.
Or not. If you think he may just tell you to lighten-up, or if you’re uncomfortable asking him to stop, think of a way to avoid the situation without confronting him. Maybe you could enlist the help of someone else to keep your brother out of the kitchen during the crucial time. There are many options once you shift your focus from changing your brother to solving the problem.
You can begin to address other family disputes in the same way. Separating the problem from the person and choosing not to insist that the other person is wrong can add more holiday cheer to your holiday gatherings.