Navigating Holiday Tensions - De-Escalate, then Appreciate

In the most idealistic setting, the extended family is cheerfully seated around the table, kids behaving, adults engaging, dishes being passed, presents being opened and the only tension in the room is perhaps on your belt, as your waistline expands from all the delicious, ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, cookies, cakes and pies.

Well, I’m willing to bet that for most people, this ideal is far from real. While families may want to be together during the holidays, tension of some sort is bound to arise - personalities clash, financial pressures mount, weather and travel delays interfere….. [you can fill in your own blanks here].

Pre-Game Approach

There are some strategies you can take to help ensure your own peaceful state of mind as you navigate the holiday season and the events that bring you together with others. Several top methods are:

Remind yourself of the good times and positive traits of those you are visiting

When you remember happy memories of the people you will be with and walk in thinking positively, you “prime the pump” for the possibility of adding another fun event to your history. If you dwell on the negative aspects or past encounters that did not go well, you may get anxious and focus only on those times. Remember the words of Henry Ford, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.”

Set reasonable expectations with yourself and others

Similarly to thinking negatively, if you expect the time of your life at every moment, there is a greater chance of disappointment. However, if you consider and set reasonable expectations of what you and others will do and how it will be, the opportunity to achieve the outcomes you set are more probable.

Get sufficient rest and schedule downtime

Before you head into a potentially stressful situation, it helps immensely to give yourself a physical and emotional “leg up” to avoid the pitfalls. Arrive rested, plan more times when you take a break and above all, rest as much as you can. Like the flight attendant may have told you, let yourself “Sit back, relax and enjoy.”


In some scenarios, tension may get triggered in you, but you have the fortitude to not make it transparent. While that tactic may work in the short term, the effects can be fairly taxing regardless and ultimately that pent up frustration comes out of you. When the inevitable occurs, and you find yourself needing to mediate your own conflict, it is important to make conscious choices during conflict rather than just unleashing automatic reactions. Consider these suggestions from “Tear Down the Wall: Be Your Own Mediator in Conflict” authored by Grande Lum, Founder and former Managing Director of Accordence:

Avoid Reaching Your Boiling Point

Detect early signs of frustration before arriving at the point of no return. Avoid reaching your boiling point and deal with the frustration earlier rather than wait until you cannot take it anymore and explode later.

Know When to Respond and When Not to Respond

Fight or flight responses have their advantages and disadvantages. Fear and avoidance of fights may cut off crucial topics that need to be addressed. Conversely, reacting in the moment and unleashing your temper may worsen the situation. Consider the timing and your audience (i.e., other family members, neighbors, etc.). A frank conversation may not come out ideally initially, but you can work toward constructiveness.

Accommodate Without Caving In

Accommodating comes from a desire to support, to achieve harmony, to be liked, and to sidestep perceived pain. Be open and generous when it comes to interacting and communicating with the other person, while being assertive and tough on the problem itself.

Affirm the Positive, Ignore the Negative

Showing appreciation to the other person is an invitation for them to replicate your behavior. Affirmation is something most people crave and it sends a collaborative signal to the other person. Making positive statements helps turns the corner on the conflict dynamic by creating a more promising, optimistic conversation.

When you take stock ahead of time to prepare yourself well for your upcoming holiday events and when you do your best to stay aware in the moment of your internal workings, thoughts and feelings in each situation more quickly, you are able to make choices for how to respond, act and mediate tensions with others more effectively. This paves the way for you to enhance relationships and achieve more meaningful resolutions.

And speaking of resolutions…...from all of us at Accordence, we wish you a very happy, healthy, and gratifying New Year!


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