How to Improve Communication During the Holidays

  • Sometimes the mood during the holiday family meal is about as warm and cheery as a cold piece of sliced turkey. “Pass the mashed potatoes!” might be said with a disgruntle tone, which may then fall on the deaf ears of someone seriously trying to ignore the existence of the other. These awkward and blunt exchanges amongst family members forcefully gathered for the holidays can be made a little more inviting and congenial with a few rules of engagement.




    Don’t chew the cud. Chewing the cud is something that cows do in order to digest their food. Chewing the cud is also something that humans do as they ruminate or stew over something wrong.  When one tends to ruminate, he or she is also highly likely to disclose negative emotions or complain at a high rate. Every family has a complainer. That person is the one constantly dumping his or her cud onto the rest of the family. Keep your cud to yourself.

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    Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill. Everyone has a mountain to climb because life is full of challenges. Turning a small problem into something big is often called, “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” Those people who habitually contort reality in this fashion are called catastrophizers, because they turn small issues into big catastrophes. Catastrophizers have a certain way of putting a chill on the holiday cheer. After the family has heard enough, the catstrophizer will be hurt because no one is validating his or her feelings or taking his or her thoughts seriously. Keep your mountains in perspective.




    Do use “I” statements. During a conversation, both parties need to feel at ease in order for the exchange to flow smoothly. If someone feels attacked, then the conversation immediately can shift into boxing-match-like battle of words. Avoiding heated exchanges can be as simple as using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, the phrase, “I feel sad” is much less threatening than, “You make me feel sad.” Those “you” statements are very threatening to the person who is the targeted “you.” No one likes to be a target. Target practice is not meant to be done at the family dinner table. Watch what you say because words matter.


    Do make polite requests. Diane Swayer once said, “A criticism is just a poorly-phrased request.” Besides the fact that a criticism also uses the word “you,” a criticism attacks an individual and triggers defense mechanisms. A criticism is easily rephrased into a request by omitting the word “you” and using the words “please” and “thank you.” For example, the phrase, “Your music is too loud” is politely softened by saying, “Please turn the music volume down, thank you.” People often respond to polite requests in a favorable, positive manner rather than with a prickly defensive response. Watch how you say things because word choice matters.


    Having positive holiday moments can be difficult with a room full of family members. Poor word choices and poor thought patterns can spoil a good meal when everyone should just be enjoying the moment.


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    Pain. 2012 Oct 8. pii: S0304-3959(12)00502-7: Correlates and consequences of the disclosure of pain-related distress to one's spouse

Published On: October 23, 2012