Happy Holidays?

November 25th, 2008

The holidays can be a time of reunion and gathering of close family and friends.  It can also be a time of stress, conflict and hurt feelings – old wounds being reopened. 

I recently had the honor of speaking with a fine group of students from the Univeristy of Maryland, College Park’s Family & Marital Therapy Department.  We explored how to discuss difficult issues with loved ones.  One of the main points we discovered is that we cannot make anyone see our point, change their mind, or value our opinion.  But sometimes, it is important to simply get our feelings and thoughts off our chests. 

Below are some of the suggestions I shared with the students.  Perhaps they will be helpful to you as well!

Step I:  Self-Reflection

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to have this conversation now? 
  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • Am I ready to hear the other person’s opinion?
  • What’s at risk if the outcome is negative?
  • What’s at risk if I don’t have this conversation?
  • Do I have a hidden purpose, like a long-buried resentment?

Step II:  Planning

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When is the best time to start this discussion – at the beginning, middle or end of my time at home?  During a family meal?
  • Is there someone I can practice with?  Perhaps I can talk with them after the conversation to de-brief.
  • Do I need someone else present to support me? 
  • How might the other person think about my topic or react to it?  How can I respond?

Step III:  Having the Conversation

Keep these points in mind with discussing your topic:

  • Try to start the conversation on a positive note, telling the person why s/he’s important to you and thanking them for taking the time to hear you out.
  • Ask questions about the other person’s opinion on the subject
  • Try to keep calm.  Take deep breaths when necessary.  Allow the other person to talk.
  • If you get too heated, stop the conversation, putting it off until later.
  • Making someone see you point is impossible.  Sometimes, just getting something off your chest is the most important thing. 
  • Try not to get side-tracked.  Return back to the topic when you do.




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