Handling Conflict During The Holidays

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

The holidays can be such a joyous time, especially now that many people are vaccinated and are able to spend time with families and friends again. The holidays can also be incredibly overwhelming. Last year we faced many new challenges when it came to the holidays, however this year we me be seeing some old ones. In particular, the possibility of dealing with conflicts between family and friends. This particular challenge can cause a significant amount of situational stress and anxiety for many people.

The important thing to keep in mind in these situations is that instead of treating conflict as something that needs “resolving,” treat it as something that needs “managing.” When “managing” conflicts what matters is not solving the problems but the affect/tone/emotion around which they are discussed.

Here are some great tips from the Colorado Spirit team that will help alleviate stress and anxiety surrounding conflicts this holiday season.

Recognize The Potential Conflicts

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When celebrating the holidays no one wants to deal with conflict, but sometimes there is no way to avoid it. Very Well Mind states, if you know that your friends or family are prone to arguments you should keep this in mind. This is not to say that you should be looking for an argument, more that you should be aware that it could happen.

By preparing yourself for the possible conflict you will be able to approach it from a new standpoint. For example, say you have a loved one that you know likes to provoke others into arguing, take a moment and reflect upon them. Were there any ways that you were able to avoid arguments with them in the past? Were there ways to discuss topics that you disagreed on without starting an argument? Were there specific people who goaded them into continuing arguments? By reviewing these possibilities, you will be able to mentally prepare for what might occur and feel more in control of the situation.

Set Boundaries

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During the holidays many families and friends gather together to celebrate the occasion. However, with the ongoing pandemic, some people may want to celebrate virtually leading to conflicts among loved ones. There may also be conflicts over who hosts the celebration, what food items should be brought, who is attending the party, etc. In situations like these one of the best ways to manage conflict is by setting boundaries.

The Crisis Prevention Institute states that setting boundaries is a highly effective de-escalation tactic and “a positive way to redirect a person in distress.” Give a clear and concise message using “I” statements to set these boundaries. “I” statements focus on the speaker’s thoughts and feelings, whereas “you” statements tend to place blame. “You” statements can cause the person who is being spoken with to become defensive.

Be sure to set your boundaries upfront so that there are no surprises. By doing this you are allowing your loved ones time to process your decision and will provide them with the opportunity to set their own boundaries. If a loved one does set boundaries, be respectful of them. This will show your loved one that you not only care about them but that you respect them as well.

Listen Actively

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Frequently conflicts arise because people feel that they are not being heard, this is where active listening comes into play. According to MindTools, active listening is “designed to encourage respect and understanding” When using active listening look for the other person’s facial cues, cadence and tone of voice, non-verbal gestures, and appearance. The most important element of active listening is to stay present. Focus on what the other person is saying and try to not focus on how you want to respond​. This leads to empathy and invites connection between both parties.

Being open and respectful of another’s point of view, feelings, and thoughts is the basis for forming bonds and ending conflicts. For example, if your are at a holiday party and someone is angry or argumentative, listen to them. Ask them calmly what is upsetting them and encourage them to explain why they feel the way they feel. By speaking calmly with them and acknowledging their feelings you will let them know that what they have to say is valid and that they matter, effectively deescalating the conflict.

Practice Deep Breathing

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Holiday events can be a fantastic way for people to reconnect and be sociable. Allowing family and friends the chance to see and speak with loved ones they may not get to see regularly. This however can cause some unintentional conflicts. With everyone relaxing and letting loose, they may say something critical or comment on something that shouldn’t have been discussed. These moments may upset or aggravate us, causing our emotions to become heightened.

In cases such as this, the best thing you can do is take a moment to calm yourself down. Deep breathing is a proven way to reduce stress in times of conflict. It supports mindfulness by assisting the mind in staying present in a situation and overriding negative thoughts. By taking a few deep breaths, you will allow your mind and body to relax and will reduce the stress of the situation. Once you feel calm you can choose to continue to engage with the individual or walk away to join other party members.

Step Away From The Conflict

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If you are at a gathering and someone there begins an argument with you that you don’t want to take part in, step away. Stepping away can be the best thing to do, especially if you feel uncomfortable or believe that you and the other party are not moving forward in your discussion. Respectfully acknowledge the individual and clearly state your intentions that you do not wish to continue the discussion. This will provide both you and the other party the opportunity to come back to the situation in a calmer state of mind.

If the person tries to continue the argument do not feel obligated to engage. If you feel that you are in any sort of emotional or physical danger, walking away and seeking help is the best thing to do. Join other members of the celebration who you trust and feel safe with. Spend the evening with them and if you feel comfortable, tell them about your situation. Having another person aware of the situation can provide a feeling of security and safety.

This holiday season kick back and relax knowing that you can successfully manage any conflict that may occur. Enjoy this time of year and remember that you are not alone, Jefferson Center’s Colorado Spirit team is here for you. Offering free and confidential support, we can help you with counseling tips and strategies to cope successfully and referrals to additional mental health resources. Call us if you need to talk at 720-731-4689.

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.