October 2019

5 Techniques for handling holiday drama

Author: Danielle Daily

Thousands of people will gather around the dinner table this holiday season secretly thinking, “Uh-oh, here we go again…” or “How can I possibly be related to these people?!” Questions from “Why are you getting a divorce?” to “Who did you vote for?” and “When are you going to have a baby?” can make us all squirm.

Family gatherings are ripe with triggers for opposing opinions and explosive conversations that make you wonder if this is going to be the year someone finally throws the cranberry sauce at Uncle Ed’s head! You may not be able to choose whom you are related to, but here are five simple techniques you can use to skirt the usual family drama with grace and style.

1.The best defense is a good offense
Reduce your mental and emotional stress in advance of any family gathering as much as possible. Prepare yourself by: Getting a good night’s sleep; spending time doing stress-relieving exercise (like walking or yoga); drinking enough water; remembering good times.

Also, have an emergency emotional support team in place. These are people you’ve pre-arranged to talk you down or support you via text or online if you feel like things are getting out of hand. Depending on your level of family drama, having a polite exit plan in place might not be a bad idea either.

2. Practice curiosity
Curiosity is a highly effective way to diffuse tension caused by CBGB (criticism, blame, gossip, & backstabbing). Why curiosity? Well, I find sometimes all a person causing drama really wants, is for someone to pay attention to them.

To express curiosity and disarm someone causing drama to gain attention, ask them to tell you more. Here are some questions you might ask while leaning in slightly and using a light, interested tone of voice: “What convinced you to believe that?” “Why do you think you feel so strongly about it?” “What is most important to you about that?” “Where could I possibly learn more about it?”

Remember, the key to these questions landing the right way is the tone of your voice. You don’t want to sound like you are challenging them, but rather asking from a place of sincere interest. Don’t be surprised if this technique immediately diffuses the situation and forges an unprecedented feeling of friendship between you and that family member. You just might become their new favorite person!

3. Answer the question you wish you had been asked
This technique is ripped straight out of politics! Have you ever noticed, when a candidate is asked a question they don’t want to answer, they will redirect by answering the question they do want to answer instead? Besides working in the political realm, this technique is incredibly useful for redirecting conversations about divisive topics like religion, marriage, divorce, and money.

Here’s an example of how you can redirect:
Uncle Ed: “Who are you going to vote for in the election?”
You: “While I was at the grocery store the other day, I noticed a magazine by the checkout line that had a photo of both the candidates. I bought the magazine, but before I could read the article, I noticed it also contained a recipe for White Chicken Chili. I’ve never even heard of white chili before, have you? Well, I decided I had to try it so…” And, you’re off and running! Give it a try! You can use this technique to redirect the conversation and then quickly excuse yourself to the restroom before Uncle Ed realizes how he ended up talking about recipes instead of politics.

4. Get outta there(and take others with you,if you can)!
Here’s a technique you can use to get yourself out of any drama-filled situation you happen to overhear of walk in on. Double points if you help someone else in the process! When you walk in on drama already in progress, ignore the tension filling the air, and with an easy-breezy attitude, invite the person you think is most likely to benefit from exiting the situation to join you elsewhere.

Do this by giving a plausible excuse for leaving such as, “Hey, Anne. I was looking for the apple slicer so I can start working on the pie, but I can’t seem to find it. Could you show me where you keep it?” You could also try, “I was just heading out for a walk around the block. I don’t know this neighborhood very well. Would you join me so I don’t get lost? You could just turn on your heel, but it’s nice when you can help someone who is already caught up in a web of drama to find a way out.

5.Focus on the positive
No need to drag an emotional holiday hangover into the New Year. If your holiday felt draining and drama-filled, the fastest way to bounce back is to not let whatever happened bring you down. Don’t ruminate or go over it play-by-play in your head, thinking about all the things you should have said or done. The sooner you move forward, the weaker the hold that experience will have over you in the long-term.

Turn your attention to the positives in your life ASAP. This doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel how you feel about your family, but when you can’t stand focusing on those feelings anymore, begin by looking for the positives. Maybe start by being grateful the holiday season only comes around once a year. If nothing else, that’s something you can celebrate!

Danielle Daily is a TEDx speaker, author, anthropologist and podcaster. Follow her on Instagram @the_danielledaily.

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