As the end of the year approaches, so does the holiday season, a time where family and friends come together to eat, laugh, and celebrate. COVID-19 has caused many families to cancel traditional gatherings, but modern technology makes it easy to connect virtually; whether in-person or on video, millions of Americans are going to see their loved ones in the coming days. While the holidays are certainly a festive time, bringing the whole family together can create tension and conflict due to what we see as inevitable arguments and misunderstandings. We may dread these occasions, but we don't have to! Psychology-informed techniques can help us reduce conflict and actually enjoy spending time with our loved ones.
A great first step is to remove sources of conflict. Avoid topics of conversation that could cause tension and arguments, and think ahead about how you'll respond to questions you'd rather not answer. Do a relaxing activity before a family gathering to get yourself in the right mindset: if you're already emotionally charged coming in, it'll only get worse as the night continues. Finally, identify your own emotional triggers and focus on the way you'll react to them.
During a family gathering, one of the best tactics to keep yourself conflict-free is to utilize space. Take a couple seconds before speaking to think about what you're about to say, allowing you to carefully respond to a provocative statement rather than react emotionally. If you're feeling tension building up inside, step away from the action for a moment and take a few deep breaths to settle down and get outside your head. With many gatherings taking place virtually this year, it may actually be easier to find space -- simply mute your device and step outside the frame. While the obvious benefit of a virtual gathering is that it's safer than meeting in person, it also gives us the opportunity to set the terms of engagement; you don't have to hear an argument just because you're in the room, and you can join or leave a virtual gathering whenever you want.
The holidays can be a time of stress and conflict due to family disagreements, but they're also filled with festive decorations, classic movies and films, delicious food, and hope for the year ahead. This year has already been hard enough, and we shouldn't let a couple dramatic relatives make it harder for us. Using tried-and-true social strategies, we can reduce conflict, ease tension, and enjoy the holiday season.