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Dealing With Difficult People During Festive Season




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The festive season is a time for family to spend time with one another. Unfortunately, in reality, these festive seasons tend to involve intense household chores which may sometimes lead to tension between family members. As a result, festive seasons may not be events that people look forward to, but instead, choose to avoid.


The causes of tension between individuals are wide and varying. One common reason stems simply from the fact that each individual is unique in having his/her own perspectives, values, and knowledge, which naturally differ from others’ from time to time. It is important to recognize that it is okay to have differing views and that they do not necessarily lead to conflicts. In fact, differing views add to diversity and are often the source of creative solutions to the same problem. Differing views only lead to tension and conflict when one tries to prove the other party wrong. Such arguments may evolve into a power struggle where people involved try to exert control and power over others by demanding others to accept their opinions. During arguments on the ‘who’s right and who’s wrong’, tension may escalate to serious outward expressions of angry emotions such as yelling, and stomping off. In more intense circumstances, fights may ensue, causing property damage, or physical harm.

The key to having healthy relationships is the awareness of your need and want to have harmonious and supportive relationships, and to recognize the reason for a relationship conflict you are experiencing. Since tense situations is due to the overt expression of power and control over each other, the gist of averting it is to reduce the external power and control and switch to inner power and control of self. The approach to this is to adopt ‘healthy and connecting habits’ (see diagram below).


Here are some actions that can help you to switch to an inner power and control of self and help maintain or rebuild a good relationship with the significant other, thus making your holiday gatherings more enjoyable.


1. Controlled breathing

When you notice your tension rising quickly, breathe deeply and slowly, counting slowly under your breath as the other speaks is an action that reduces tension within your own body. It helps to regulate the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain, bringing into greater consciousness of what is happening, and helps to organize thoughts more carefully and calmly.


2. Listen without judging

This is easier said than done as most of us start processing how to reply as the other person speaks. Listen carefully without any judgment. The aim is to identify the concern of the other party and the emotion he/she may be experiencing (e.g., look out for any distress or stress).

3. Acknowledge and communicate emotions

Recognize and express the emotions the other party may be experiencing (e.g., “You seem to be upset over this.”). Also, notice your own emotions and communicate to the other party in a calm tone (e.g., “I am upset too”). This helps you and the other party to understand both of you feel in the situation.

4. Reply with a gentle and respectful tone

It is almost automatic to respond harshly to angry tones during during confrontations. Remain calm as the main objective is to work towards a common goal, and resolve the tension. Replying in gentle tone shows respect to you and to the other person.


5. Provide options and choices
All of us want to be empowered with options, we dislike limitations. Thus working together to come up with different options and reaching a common agreement where it is a win-win situation makes both parties feel good.

6. Move away
This is a common advice, but can sometimes be done wrongly, leaving the other person feeling lost, confused and helpless. However, this option is appropriate when you notice the situation is escalating and both parties are unable to discuss the issue calmly and constructively. When the decision is made to move away from the tension, do so in a tactful manner (e.g., “I think we are both too upset to be able to talk about this calmly. Let’s make another time to talk about this when we are both calmer, okay?”). Make a specific time to talk about the issue at a later date.

7. Focus on the positive
Enjoying little enjoyments in life can make you happy. Ed Diener (1991) found that individual who experiences frequent positive emotions tend to show greater level of happiness. Therefore when in conflict, it is important to shift your focus to something positive. You could do so by focusing on the physical accompany with your family members during festive season as some may not be fortunate to spend time with their love ones.


The aim of these tips as you may have notice is focusing on you rather than the other party. It is important to acknowledge that you can’t change or control how others respond, but we certainly can change how we react to situations. Be proactive not reactive, and you can make your relationships meaningful.



Source: This article was first published in a newsletter by THRIVE, a Community Mental Health Program managed by KTPH. Reproduced with permission.


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