7 Ways to Navigate Tense/Awkward/Ugh Conversations
December 20, 2018
The holidays are a chance for families and friends to come together over food and gifts, racking up some serious quality time.
Yet for some of us, there can be a rush of anxiety when it comes to the thought of going home for the holidays.
If that's you, I’m here to share that you're not alone.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or out of control when faced with situations or people you’ve transitioned away from. And because we can’t all avoid going home completely, you may find yourself having to navigate some less than favorable conversations while there.
To help, here are some actionable ways to create a more civil environment while at home for the holidays if conversations get sticky.
1. 'Thank You, I’ll Look into That'
You know the family member or friend of the family who is habitually offering unsolicited advice or suggestions? Trust me, I understand they are not easy to deal with—but more than likely you aren’t going to change their ways.
So, instead of responding out of annoyance and anger, try simply saying something along the lines of, “Thank you, I’ll look into that.” You of course don’t actually have to look into it, but it will at least allow them to feel acknowledged so you don’t have to keep awkwardly avoiding eye contact throughout the night.
2. Extend Compliments
Perhaps there’s a member of your family or your significant other’s family who you just can’t seem to crack. The relationship just hasn’t been there between the two of you, but you’d like to extend an olive branch.
Why not break the ice with giving them a compliment?
According to Forbes, studies show that receiving a compliment has the same social effects on a person as receiving money. Who wouldn’t react positively to that?
Not only will they feel more favorable towards you, but giving compliments also has a strong effect on how we (the givers) feel. Research has proven that the act of giving compliments is similar to that of giving a gift and naturally boosts our happiness and levels of joy. Serving up a compliment—even if it's as simple as "I loved your holiday card this year!"— will alleviate some stress for both parties.
3. Ask How You Can Help
Take extending compliments even further and ask how you can help.
Sometimes the reason this person may be so moody is because they’re generally the one stuck with the brunt of responsibilities during the holiday season. A little help may go a long way. Also: It allows you some one-on-one time to get to know each other and spark conversation.
4. Be Open Instead of Challenging
Politics, social justice, and other issues are definitely sticky subject matter. Yet, no matter how well known it is that family gatherings are not the appropriate time to bring them up—somehow, they always seem to become a topic of discussion.
While discourse can be beneficial, if you know from experience that engaging with someone has never led to anything positive in the past, it's OK to hold off. Instead, try sitting back and listening.
Though you may not completely agree, there can (hopefully) be some points of the discussion you can agree on—or at least agree to disagree on in a compromising way. With little ammo for this person to take shots with, they’ll begin to lose steam and eventually the conversation will just transition itself.
5. Take a Breather and Address it Later
In the event that a gentle compromise is not something you can do in the moment or they just won’t let up—it is always a good idea to step away from the situation and take a breather.
Taking a moment to have a deep breath and come back to center is a good way to process thoughts and emotions more clearly. Use this time to take a walk, sit outside and take in nature, or listen to your favorite songs or podcasts, like the guided meditations in the Shine app. The simplest out if you need a moment: taking a "bathroom break." Allow yourself to take as long as necessary before returning to the situation.
6. Gently Change the Subject
Sometimes, you might find yourself simply a bystander to a tense conversation if other members of your family are at odds. This can affect us just as much, if not more, than when it’s pointed in our direction—especially if we care for both parties involved.
Instead of allowing them to upset one another or those around them with their issues, try politely interrupting and changing the subject. A light-hearted interjection may be just what’s needed to calm the tension.
7. Know When You Don’t Actually Need to Respond
No response is most definitely an adequate response. There isn’t anyone more in control of your emotions and how you feel than you are.
Maintain that control by not engaging in conversations or situations that you know will be upsetting. Protect your energy and try not to give in to things that do not serve you.
Read next: How to Diffuse Stress With Acceptance