Tis the Season! Spending Time with People Who May Not Be Your Favorites

Seven Tips to Ease Relations

I like to joke (sort of) that one of the special things about the holidays is that many of us get to spend time with people you would not choose to hang around with were they not relatives and you were at gatherings that seem mandatory over the holidays.

So, in a modest effort to help ease the pain and tension, to minimize the risk of food fights, and to ease up on the need for aspirin and Alka-Seltzer during this holiday season, I am sharing my often used tips for such encounters. Hope you find them useful, too.

 About Them
  1. Apply the 1 to 5 Rule. A friend who was in the people counselling business (especially couples) taught me this one years ago, and it has been priceless. Ask yourself, Recognizing that this issue has some importance for both of us, On a scale of 1 to 5, how important is this issue/choice to you and to the other person? You cheat yourself if everything is a 5, but if on a given topic, a choice is a 5 for the other person, and honestly a 2 for you (for example), how about saying, “I disagree, but maybe you are right. Let’s try your idea.”
  2. To give is a better gift. Sounds a bit trite, but its true – giving something feels 100 times better than receiving something. So, look for the opportunity once in a while to give the gift of agreeing when you have doubts, or sign up to do something that really does not ring your bell (but you know it does theirs’). The more you do this, the more a habit it becomes and the more you enjoy it. I had a bit of a habit sometime back, during the pandemic, of paying for the order of the person behind me in a drive up window line. Just for the heck of it. Felt nice and hopefully encouraged them to pay it forward. Of course, if I saw the wrong bumper sticker…..
About You
  1. In the scheme of life… When you find yourself getting really spun up oversomething, when the irritation will not go away, ask yourself this simple question. “In the scheme of life, how important is this, really?” I have found over the years that asking myself that question helps put things back into perspective and makes it more likely that I will pick fights that matter and walk away from those that do not.
  2. Walk in Their Shoes. Sometimes we all have found ourselves in strong disagreement with people that we otherwise know and like. And sometimes with others it just seems an impossible mystery to understand how they came to the position they now espouse. It does not always work, but sometimes it is helpful to try understanding what in their life might put them where they are today. I am a big fan of the Socratic method of asking questions to help both participants dig a little deeper in understanding thoughts and positions. I have seen this being helpful even when you still do not agree in the end, at least you could have a better appreciation of how each of you came to be standing where you do.
  For Everyone
  1. Know the point of the discussion. It could make quite a difference in a discussion if everyone involved is clear in their own minds why they are engaging each other. Is this to mutually educate or to defeat the other side? Is this to lay a foundation for more discussions and a modicum of communication or is it to convince an audience? Where you plan to wind up shapes how you engage and how much give and take you find useful and helpful.
  2. Be Humble. We all know you are good lucking, smart, and pretty much always right. Still, you COULD be off on something being worked today. I personally have learned my best lessons from being corrected when I was wrong and being handed defeat when I was so sure I was right about everything. Celebrate both your strengths AND your weaknesses. Recognize that self-evaluation is easy to skip over, but doing so is a serious mistake (Talking to you, Donald.).
  3. Take a lesson from anatomy. The basic human form comes with TWO eyes to see others attentively, TWO ears to hear what is being said (and what is not said but relevant), TWO arms to reach out in friendship or assistance, TWO butt cheeks to take a seat and let others be heard, and ONE mouth to speak your piece. Hmmm, might nature be offering some guidance with these ratios? Lincoln is reported to have said sometimes it is better to be silent and have others think you a fool than to speak out and confirm that analysis. Silence is a powerful tool in communication. May we use it more often.
Happy Holidays

That’s all I have to offer today. Feel free to use any or all that are new to you. They work quite well, for the most part. Not always, of course – talking with some people is just a waste of oxygen. But until you conclude that is the case, try making the connection and doing some mutual learning.

Happy Holidays, indeed. By the way, not many readers of this blog would think so anyway, but just to be clear, saying Happy Holidays is not an attack on Christmas. By most counts, the world’s current major religions (7 of them) have, between mid-November and mid-January almost 30 religious or otherwise important holidays. Happy Holidays is simply a way of saying you celebrate this season, and you join in others who do so as well, even though their path may be different than yours. How arrogant it would be to say only one set of holidays has value and meaning. We can be better than that.

See you next week.

              Bill Clontz

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