Negotiating Family Disputes over the Holidays

While the holiday season is often filled with joy and precious family time, it can also be a stressful time of the year. Aside from making holiday travel plans and scrambling to buy gifts on time, people often worry about butting heads with family members during the holiday festivities. Sensitive topics may range from personal issues to the results of this year’s election!

In certain social situations without close relatives, it might be easier to keep guests from entering disputes. However, dispute resolution among family members can be trickier. Relatives, particularly in nuclear families, have long histories and strong feelings that accompany them. This can result in loyalty but it can also trigger more emotional reactions.

When negotiating a family dispute this holiday season, here are a few tips.

If you are not involved in the dispute, act as a mediator and help the disputing family members to present their views. Give each family member the opportunity to explain their views, without interruption. Make a strong effort to help everyone see each point of view.

If you are one of the disputing members, remember to stay calm, think clearly, and allow the family members you are disputing with to voice their point of view without interruptions or inappropriate interjections.

Let other family members help with the negotiation and healing process. If there is a family member who wants to help smooth things over during a dispute, it’s a good idea to let them do so. Also if the dispute is isolated between two family members then if possible try to remove them from the rest of the family and let them work it out separately without the stress and pressure of dampening the family celebrations.

Lastly, keep your expectations realistic. It may not be possible to change a relative’s mind on their political views, or past insult or injury, so perhaps that’s an unreasonable goal. Know when to just accept that some things may not change and move on. Also the most you might hope for is to have the disagreeing parties just agree to disagree for the sake of the holidays.

A Season for Resolution

The holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends, to express gratitude for your good fortune and to reflect on improvements you want to make. Ideally, these are things we do on a regular basis; sometimes, however, “life gets in the way.” It’s easy to get caught up in the rigors of daily activities and responsibilities, so when the holidays roll in we feel a kind of pressure to be exceptionally “good.” We speed through family and business affairs, doing our best not to fight.

But it’s in the nature of planning for, and traveling through, the holidays (finance, business, shopping, travel, family) when disputes sometimes rear their ugly head. If you find yourself dealing with a insurmountable problem, talk to an experienced mediator as soon as possible. Whatever your dispute, mediation is a positive, inexpensive way to approach it. Resolve your problems quickly so you can be truly thankful this holiday season.