Conflict Actually: Conflict Management Tips for the Holidays

To paraphrase a modern Christmas classic film, Love Actually substituting their main theme of ‘love’ with our topic word of ‘conflict’, one can almost hear the prime ministerial tones of Hugh Grant in voiceover, “It’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends… if you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that (during the holidays) Conflict actually is… all around.”


Let’s face it; along with the festive cheer, the season’s greetings and such, many holidays are filled with conflict. Whether you’re in line at a department store with the season’s latest must-have or the passive-aggressive gravy boat spill at the forced family gathering, tensions run high during the holidays.

We at MRU Cont. Ed. have asked Shannon Geoffrey, Program Administrator for Business and Professional Education, to provide us with a few mindful tips from our Conflict Resolution courses to help you successfully navigate the trials of your holiday.

“First,” she itemizes, “prepare.” Like a high performance athletics coach, she encourages research and visualization. “Knowing that someone is going to be confrontational or that someone is going to implode, that’s the first step.” Then, she recommends, “Visualizing in your mind what could happen and becoming comfortable with it before it happens.”

What if knowing is not enough? How can you calm the aggressor or diffuse a tense situation? Geoffrey uses paraphrasing. “Summarize what the person is saying. If someone says something that’s ‘way out there’, it’s not about agreeing with them, but it’s just saying ‘I hear you; I just see it this way.”

Then, there are the people who carry the dread of the encounter throughout the holiday. Even while visualizing the encounter and preparing coping techniques, everyone has that one particular sister-in-law who tries to manipulate everyone against them each and every family get-together. This anxiety adds to the normal holiday stresses. “Be very clear and upfront with people.” Geoffrey says.

“Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes you have to step away from that moment and put some space between you and that person in order to come back in a better frame of mind.” This needn’t be solved at the holiday table. Instead, Geoffrey suggests, “Set a period of time; a new year’s resolution to sit down with this person so that they’re in the right frame of mind rather than when they’re in high conflict and thinking irrationally.”

As dutiful parents remind children, “it takes two to tango.” In reality, it can be difficult for all of us to realize, through our egocentric lens, that we ourselves might be the problem. This is where MRU’s Conflict Resolution employs its philosophy of looking inward. Geoffrey thinks everyone must first, “understand yourself in conflict before you can manage others.” She continues, “find out what gets you going and what’s eating (you) up inside. Only then,” she explains, “can we learn the problem.”

“A lot of people get sucked into the emotion.” Geoffrey advises, “We need that introspection to figure out what is it that is creating that emotion and how do I learn how to manage that.” Using techniques like self-talk and journaling, you can gain the skills to manage the moment. “The program teaches you to look inward, but learn what to do outward.”

Like the movie, with time, understanding and a panicked trip to an airport, Conflict Actually teaches us, “people only get together right at the very end.”

-JLove (First Lobster)

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