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Dealing with Conflict This Holiday Season

Three steps to managing conflict.

It’s no secret that holidays, especially a thanksgiving following a divisive election, can lead to conflict among family and friends. That conflict will likely be exacerbated by the current health crisis (see here for why) and disagreements about the best way to safely handle the holidays (there is an answer to that question, by the way. Please stay safe).

If you are anticipating some conflict, be it about the election results, the pandemic, or something else, here are three things you can do to deal with it.

1. Plan for it. Chances are, you already have a good sense of which family member or friend is going to initiate the conflict. Be prepared for how you would like to handle it when it comes up. A big part of that is deciding what your goals are. Do you want to argue? Do you want to avoid the conversation? Decide that in advance.

2. If you don’t want to argue, don’t. If you decide in advance that you don’t want to get into an argument, practice saying seven words: “I don’t want to talk about this.” Most often, that will end things. If the culprit continues to badger you, say it again, “I told you that I don’t want to talk about this.”

Be careful when you do this not to add anything like, “I disagree with you because of…., but I don’t want to talk about it.” That isn’t really fair to them. What you’re really saying is, “Now that I’ve told what I think, I want to avoid hearing what you think.” If you don’t want to argue, be consistent and just don’t talk about the topics that will lead to dispute.

3. If you do want to argue, stay on topic, and listen too. It’s fine if you want to get into it with them (but be prepared for the outcome, which might be an unpleasant evening for a lot of people). It’s best, though, to make sure you stay on topic. Don’t make it personal and don’t make it about other things. Statements like, “that’s the problem with you all” or “you Biden/Trump supporters are always doing this” end up being unproductive.

You should also make sure to listen. Half of having difficult conversations is listening to what the other person has to say. When the other person is talking, instead of planning what you’re going to say next, make sure to hear their point. Otherwise, why are you talking about it?

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