Originally Posted: December 8, 2015
As a lawyer, mediator, SMU faculty member and manager of SMU-in-Plano’s Conflict Resolution Center, Angela Mitakidis has helped people resolve conflicts all over the world. She finds the techniques she uses to resolve disputes in international court referred cases are just as effective around the holiday dining table.
Here are her tips for resolving family conflicts:
Extend grace Remember the holidays are not happy for everyone. For some they are a reminder of loss or sadness. Give the benefit of the doubt and extend grace and mercy, despite an unpleasant comment or negativity.
Respond, don’t react Reacting is the knee-jerk defense to an attack. Instead, respond with a kind act like, “May I get you a refill?” The best way to disarm a caustic attack is with a kind gesture.
Focus on the good things Diverting the focus from an unpleasant discussion to the common joy, fun and gratitude that comes with the holidays can help to de-escalate heightened emotions in conflict.
Validate Validate a person’s emotions. For example, “It sounds like that situation hurt you a lot.” Whether an emotion is justified or not, that person is experiencing that emotion at that moment. By making them feel heard and not judged, the person relaxes and the escalation of conflict is curtailed.
Common Need Everyone shares the common need to feel loved, cared for, valued and wanted, even the person who seems set on upsetting everyone. Instead of alienating that person, include him or her in a lighthearted holiday activity, like handing out gifts. Make them feel included and they’ll soon forget their complaints.
Laugh It’s hard to stay angry around lighthearted people. Plan fun things in advance, like watching a funny video or playing a game that gets everyone giggling. Humor is good for the soul.
Forgive When all is said and done, and a relative still manages to inflict that verbal jab, forgive and let it go. Forgiveness has many benefits, including a sense of release, relief and freedom for the forgiver.