How to de-escalate family fights in three minutes.
Posted Nov 07, 2018
The holiday season is packed with family gatherings and, inevitably, drama. Uncle Tim can't resist voicing his political opinions. Aunt Tanya despises cousin Sam and refuses to sit anywhere near him. Sally has a bone to pick with her stepmom, Mona, and seizes every opportunity to hit below the belt with searing sentiments. It's enough to make a person want to hide in the closet with a bottle of whiskey and cute kitten videos.
However, there is an easy way to nip drama in the bud before it escalates. The key is to focus on family members’ feelings and avoid taking sides. When tempers flare and daggers fly, the primary players often attempt to drag innocent bystanders into the argument. Essentially, they feel more empowered if they have people reinforcing them.
While choosing a side in a family conflict is the worst thing you can do, abandoning a loved one doesn't feel right either. So the most effective way to quiet down both participants without taking a side is to reflect feelings—for example, saying, “You are really angry. I get it. I understand,” validates the person's feelings without agreeing with their argument. Quickly saying something similar to the other party in the argument is the next step. Gently stating, “I know you are hurt. I can tell. I understand,” allows the family member to feel understood and supported, without side taking.
By simply sticking with the family members’ feelings, a person avoids agreeing or disagreeing with either party. Once both parties feel understood, they usually quiet right down. In addition, focusing on their feelings stops the escalation of the debate because it avoids introducing new material and opinions that may fuel the conflict.
Utilizing good-natured humor to defuse tension, reminding adults that the season is about the children and they should be the focus, and ignoring any attempts at gaslighting are also important holiday survival tactics.
It’s alright for family members to disagree as long as they feel understood and respected. By empathizing with each person's feelings instead of the content of the debate, both parties feel heard and validated. Don't let a few bad candy apples spoil the holidays. Be smart. Stay calm. Don't take sides. Empathize with feelings. Enjoy.