“Don’t Kick the Dog”- How to End Christmas Conflict at Last
By: Sherri Gragg
In one of the most popular holiday movies of all time, Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold is a man in crisis. He has done everything in his power to ensure the perfect family Christmas but, despite all of his planning and hard work, he finds he is utterly inadequate to withstand the nemesis of every holiday gathering…
In one scene, Clark turns with stunned horror to his cousin Eddie and says, “Just can’t believe you’re standing here in my living room, Eddie.”
According to Marilyn Wadkins, Executive Coach with TEAM Ministries, our tendency toward conflict during the holidays is largely due to what she calls the “kick the dog syndrome.” Just as dogs love their masters no matter what, family members sometimes present the worst version of themselves when they are together because they trust each other’s permanency. “We feel freer to react inappropriately with the people we know will take us back,” Wadkins said.
But there is hope this holiday. Wadkins suggests a few practical steps for ending conflict this Christmas.
Most of us know from experience whether or not we are likely to experience tension during Christmas gatherings. We may even have a good idea about the types of situations that will occur. Wadkins recommends preparing and practicing neutral responses such as “I hear you,” or “That’s interesting.” When we have these prepared responses in our tool box, it enables us to go into potentially stressful situations with more confidence. This simple exercise helps ease our anxiety level which enables us to more calmly respond to potentially explosive situations.
Be a Good Listener
“Think first to understand, then to be understood,” is Wadkin’s favorite quote by author Stephen Covey. Sometimes we wrongly assume we know what another person is thinking. When we ask questions, it gives the other person the opportunity to clarify his or her point of view. Wadkins suggests using the simple request, “Tell me more about that” to help avoid misunderstandings.
Take a Step Back
There will be moments when despite our best preparation, and most valiant efforts to listen well, we will encounter a family member with whom it is difficult to live in peace. When this occurs, Wadkins urges us to take a moment for self-reflection to determine just why we are so upset. It is also helpful to find a way to “detach” from the negative emotions we are experiencing.
“Act like the information you are receiving is coming from a total stranger.” Wadkins said, “How would you respond in that situation?”
The Secret Weapon
When all else fails, use your secret weapon- Remember you always have a choice. Wadkins advises pausing to ask ourselves if our reactions are matching up to our values and desires. “You can choose to be angry,” she said, “or you can choose a solution you can be content with.”
Perhaps if each of us enters our family Christmas gatherings a little better prepared to handle conflict, we will find ourselves one step closer to peace on earth.
Or at least around the dinner table.