Dealing with conflict at Christmas : taking a kinder path

Sometimes, some people can really rub us up the wrong way. And there are moments when, consumed with our own thoughts, we’re more prone to taking other people’s offhand comments way too personally.

Some days calm and kind feels natural and easy. Other days our emotions are raw, our thinking chaotic and our temper easily triggered. Facing what feels like criticism or judgement, we’re easily drawn into arguments and negativity.

Christmas is a time for giving, for sharing and for family. Images of idyllic days enveloped in the loving embrace of said family fill our hearts, our minds and our screens. Expectations soar, while our resources may plummet spectacularly low.

None of us want to be irritable and snappy especially with those we love the most. We’ve all worked so hard to get here, it’s no wonder we sometimes feel overwhelmed, overtired and oversensitive.

But don’t despair, equipped with some useful tools we can glide through the season with grace. 


When adrenaline starts rising to the surface and we’re at risk of lashing out in hurt or frustration, taking a moment to breathe before we respond can help us calm us down.

Taking the time to pause, or counting to ten and focusing on our breathing, can help us regain control and respond more considerately.

Reaching for a sip of water creates a natural pause in our conversation allowing us time to think. And when we need that bit longer, a mouthful of food can do the trick.

Really listening

Be open and curious in conversation. Recognise that we may not have heard the sentiment, or even the words as they were spoken or intended. Momentary lapses of concentration, multiple distractions and our own preconceptions combine to skew the experience of our every interaction.  

Remember those times when we’re sure we’ve been misunderstood, that others have missed our point and latched on to something we didn’t intend. Being generous in our interpretations, willing to extend the benefit of doubt to others and assuming positive intent all help to increase our feelings of good will, warmth and connection to those around us.

And when we feel more at ease, we can entertain the possibility that we’ve misheard, misjudged or been wrong in our assumptions. We’re more willing and able to consider different perspectives and embrace the opportunities they offer us to learn from each other and deepen our relationships.

Ditching self-obsession

We’re each the centre of our own universe and process information on this basis. This can leave us all at risk of inflating our own significance in the affairs of others.

Aggression and hostility are symptoms of sadness and hurt, fear and confusion. When others are unkind, insensitive or dismissive towards us, it can reveal much more about them than us. Just as our own sensitivity to certain topics reflects our own emotional state, so it is for those around us.

And remembering this, in the most difficult moments, can help us find compassion for the common challenges we all face, and avoid the perils of taking everything too personally.

Considering our choices

Surrounded by those we love, whose relationships we value, yet whose beliefs and choices may be vastly different to our own, there are bound to be some awkward moments. But we’re not solely at the mercy of circumstance, we have a choice.

We can choose to engage in discussion, or we can politely withdraw. Passing the bean dip, responding to the far-off, faint, almost imperceptible calls of our children, or straight up acknowledging it’s an interesting topic worthy of more time and attention another time, can all be useful tactics to avoid difficult exchanges.

I once worried that if I didn’t overtly challenge the discriminatory remarks of others that my children might think these were okay. I was wrong to worry. The strength of their own reasoning and reflections, the quality of our connection and ongoing conversations, my attempts at being kinder and calmer, trusting them and being someone they can trust – these are far more powerful influences than the occasional outburst from others.

Presented with opposing views, we’re gifted the opportunity to learn more about a subject and explore our own thoughts and opinions. But we can do this later, when the strong emotions of the moment have subsided and there is less scrutiny from others.

Be like the oak tree

Defensiveness is a form of attack and can undermine our position. We don’t have to refute the claims of others, provide lengthy explanations or justify our every move. We can choose to let stuff go, refrain from direct challenges and allow our actions to speak louder than our words.

Being true to ourselves, and remembering that we’re responsible for our own actions, whatever the provocation, can help us avoid being dragged into fruitless arguments.

In no way, do I mean to suggest that we should always stay quiet and never challenge, that we should be submissive and agree with everyone. I believe that we should challenge cruelty, injustice, prejudice and discrimination when we can, but that this doesn’t have to be by direct confrontation. There are times when words will be more or less effective.

Travelling the same road many times when we know it doesn’t lead where we’d like to go is a waste of time, as is belligerently rehashing the same old arguments, something we all want to avoid. Keeping our focus and attention positive and challenging negativity with the choices we make each day, these say much more than a few heated words ever could.

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