Christmas with the Family: How to Get Through the Holidays Crisis-Free – According to Communication Expert

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Only a few days left until Christmas – the most beautiful and festive but sometimes also the most challenging time of the year. With these situational communication tips, you will also become a Master of Harmony with one or the other difficult family member at the table.

Christmas with the family: With these expert tips for communication, the festival succeeds as crisis-free as possible

Making music together, a festive gift, great gifts, long conversations in front of the fireplace and a delicious 3-course meal; all this after everyone happily sings up the kitchen together before hours of fun games are played. Christmas could be so beautiful. Wouldn’t it be real life with real characters, real jobs, real problems and, above all, with real sensitivities.

The older aunt who makes fun of gendering, the brother-in-law who loudly expresses his racist views, the lost cousin who is coming back for the first time in years – at Christmas, the most diverse people and opinions sit together at a table and often make conversations between dumplings and red cabbage a communicative balancing act. Together with coach and communication expert Christin Colli, we help you to navigate situationally through problematic situations on the holidays.

Christmas with the family: How do you dealt with difficult situations? An interview with Christin Colli

VOGUE: Mrs. Colli, let’s assume that my brother-in-law has completely different, maybe even racist political views and does not keep behind with them. How can I react calmly and respectfully and conduct discussions constructively?

Christin Colli: Depending on the positioning, depending on the goal and relationship with the brother-in-law, there are two ways to act and react. Case one would be that you strongly contradict the views of your brother-in-law, but also like characteristics of him and want to experience a harmonious Christmas with everyone involved. Now you have to ask yourself: How much are you willing to use for a harmonious celebration? How seriously do you take your longing for exchange and being together with the whole family, once a year? Because only, really only, if you want that with all your heart, is it possible to find things that connect and direct the conversation focus to them. If you enlarge what you have in common or what positive aspects you see in the other person, you actively contribute to what you want to experience (harmonious Christmas with everyone involved). The saying is true: ‘As it sounds into the forest, it sounds back.’

If I do not make my own sense of well-being dependent on the way of thinking of others, I can ask my brother-in-law openly and curiously what motivates him to have this opinion. I can get involved in his perspective for a moment to understand it. Not to agree with him. Important: This does not mean that I give up or give up my point of view. It’s more like a Vexier image – several interpretation possibilities are available and depending on what I focus on, I see the old woman or the young, the frog or the horse’s head. With these pictures, it is easy for us to switch back and forth between the different perspectives and truths because we are not emotionally involved. And if we could allow ourselves to look at the situation with the brother-in-law similarly openly, we ourselves will remain in balance. If we persevere, it allows us to stay connected with the best version of the brother-in-law. If we stand up and stay on the ball, do not have to solve anything, but are allowed to be there what is there right now, we are effective. Of course, it is also possible within this framework to address one’s own concerns and explain one’s own views. Suddenly it’s no longer about who’s right. Where there is no attacker, no attacker, no one has to defend themselves. Speaking and listening at eye level are possible again. That would be lived tolerance. Of course, it is also okay to draw a line if certain views contradict your own value system. I can politely and firmly make it clear that I do not want to delve into political discussions in order to avoid potential conflicts that evening.

It is okay to draw a limit if certain views contradict your own value system.

The second way of reacting is for the daredevils among you. Here we assume that you don’t like your brother-in-law or his views and that you don’t care what a mood there is at Christmas. That you have been tired of listening to these slogans for years. Maybe the meetings with the family have felt like a mandatory program for a long time anyway – then there is actually nothing against simply bursting the bomb and attacking it. Then the political attitude of your brother-in-law could be the outlet to destroy the illusion of harmonious Christmas and perhaps serve as a justification to be allowed to withdraw.

You could bang his mistake on your brother-in-law’s head and try to make it clear to him how next to him you can find his views and why. However, in your mission to put him on the right path (which is of course yours), you will fail miserably. No one can be convinced who does not want to be convinced. We have no influence on the opinion of another person. But at least in this case you have defended your values and have gone into battle for the good cause. You don’t have to blame yourself for simply tolerating the situation. Because that could come as approval on the other side. Either way, in this case, all those involved end up sitting in front of a pile of shards. Then exactly the same thing happens on a small scale as on a large scale. You may have been right and defended your values. But the mood is over.

How do you conduct a representative discussion at eye level?

It doesn’t always have to be so extreme and/or political. In the family context, even smaller topics sometimes enter into huge discussions. How do I react when my aunt is pissed about me gendering? Are there techniques to create a respectful space for differences?

Here, too, it is crucial from which attitude I argue. If I like my aunt, I can explain to her why I gender and find it important. From a benevolent, loving attitude, I do not have to feel attacked and do not need to justify myself. Maybe I can tell her that it is my personal decision, an act of respect and tolerance towards all sexes, that it is now quite commonplace and has established itself with me and many other people as a new automatism in speech that no longer distinguishes between professional and private context. I can also acknowledge and understand that it sounds unusual and bumpy to them. I can tell her that I don’t expect her to change as well. I can offer her to continue talking about the topic if she is interested and encourage her to be more open to new views. It is important to be patient and to understand that not all people accept changes in language equally. Ultimately, through my explanations and my openness, I can hope that my aunt can at least better understand why gendering is an important matter for me.

From a benevolent, loving attitude, I do not have to feel attacked and do not need to justify myself.

Depending on the size of the family, we sometimes sit together at Christmas with people who are actually foreign to us and whose lives we have no idea. How do I greet my cousin, to whom I have nothing to say – and at the same time give her the sauce supposedly confidently?

Try to approach the encounter with an open and friendly attitude. A smile and a warm welcome can be the first step towards a pleasant atmosphere. If you feel comfortable with it, you could also honestly say: “It’s really been a while since we saw each other. I notice that we have become strangers. I regret that. Actually, I want to know more about you.” Then you can sincerely interest yourself in her life and ask what moved her in recent years and what has happened. And you could cautiously suggest a new beginning by mentioning that you would appreciate building a new relationship again, if that’s okay with both of you. She certainly has something interesting to tell…

Different people, different educational methods. How do I react when someone commands my children around or treats them stupidly? What strategies can help maintain the balance between courtesy and enforcement of my parental decisions and authority?

Such situations are often a tightrope. First of all, I would advise you to seek the direct conversation with the person in a quiet and private moment and to say clearly and politely which behaviors I do not accept and what I consider appropriate when it comes to dealing with my children. I can ask the person to cultivate this desired behavior. If this does not work and the children continue to be ordered around, I can repeat my request and make it a claim. This means that I inform the person of the consequences it has if the inappropriate behavior continues – for example, to restrict being together with the person in order to protect the child. Alternatively, you can first try it with humor and say something like: “Okay, my children, my construction site – I’ll take over from here.” That takes the pressure out.

I always advise you to first seek direct conversation with the person in a quiet and private moment and to say clearly and politely which behaviors I do not accept and what I consider appropriate.

Let’s say it gets tough and I have the feeling that I would really feel better if I stayed away from my family. Is it allowed to pull out completely on Christmas days and cancel all family invitations?

Of course. Everyone decides for themselves. However, it is advisable and fair to communicate the decision in good time and to explain the motivations openly and honestly. “This year I feel the need to retire and spend the holidays for myself,” “I feel very exhausted right now and need time for myself to recharge” or “I really appreciate your invitation – but I think it’s the best thing for me to withdraw right now. It’s for me, not against you.” A good option is also to offer to meet the family at a later date. With this prospect, a possible disappointment can be better tolerated and endured. Give your family members time to accept their decision.

Christmas with the family: Joint activities ensure looseness

What tips do you generally have to create a positive atmosphere during the holidays?

In order to create a harmonious vibe with the family during the holidays and to preserve it, it is crucial to make clear appointments. My recommendation is to create a small plan before the holidays, taking into account the expectations of all parties involved. This creates transparency and helps to avoid misunderstandings.

Joint activities are always good. They provide fun and looseness. Cooking or baking sessions or games such as scharade or a Christmas quiz bring young and old together. A cozy movie night with classic Christmas films or reading Christmas stories together are further ways to relax and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Walks through decorated streets, Christmas market visits or decorating the tree together bring everyone closer together.

In order to strengthen the harmonious sense of family, music always helps. Singing Christmas songs, playing instruments or even a small karaoke session with Christmas songs help to create a positive and joyful atmosphere during the holidays.

When is it time to go?

This decision depends on various factors such as fatigue, fatigue, course of the evening and dynamics between all parties involved. Signs that could indicate that it is time to leave are waning energy, cessation of activities such as giving and eating, the disappearance of conversations, fatigue on the part of the hosts. And even if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed, it is okay to explain politely and respectfully that it would be better to leave. A polite farewell with a thank you for the hospitality is an appropriate way to end the evening.

In summary again: What are the most important strategies for a harmonious and, above all, conflict-free celebration? 

A small but often very helpful tip for conflict avoidance can be to discuss a budget framework for the gifts, to which everyone involved can adapt. Humor and friendliness are always good and mild. In the end, it’s about putting everything connecting above the differences of opinion for the short time you spend together and putting up with them.

In the end, it’s about putting everything connecting above the differences of opinion for the short time you spend together and putting up with them.

If we practiced unconditional love in our family at Christmas, we would make a real contribution to peace. This is difficult because hardly anyone exemplified it to us and we therefore have no guarantee that it will work. But if we remember that diversity in opinions and views is normal and that it is important to accept freedom of expression, even if you do not agree with the other views; if we put our family ties above topics such as politics, it is possible to let different opinions be there while continuing to be in a loving relationship with each other. And then Christmas has real potential to create beautiful memories together.

About Christin Colli:

As co-founder of the Coaching Spiral, trainer, communication expert and coach, Christin Colli has been accompanying people, families, company management and teams for over 20 years to penetrate and refine their own role and vision better and better. She loves to think new solutions together and creatively and to accompany the implementation. Due to her own life and coaching experience, she is trained to accept what is right now, but also allows herself to see what can be possible.

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