Going into the Christmas season it is easy to be overwhelmed with the financial burden and to forget what the celebration of Christ’s birth is really about.

At a sermon this past weekend, my pastor reflected upon the inevitable “Joy Thieves” of the season:  financial strain, house prepping, cooking, present wrapping, store shopping (and all of the fun things that come with that- trying to find parking, trying to find a sale, trying to make your way through a line, and then trying not to get angry and kill the person who took your parking spot, bought the last sale item, and pushed you on their way to the line). With this I remind you of the concept of “Mushin,” and the concept of “Anger or Trigger Guards.” The habit of Mushin will allow you to maintain your emotional homeostasis even during the most difficult times. Take a deep breath, and center yourself. In utilizing Anger or Trigger Guards you can prepare yourself for the onslaught of things that anger you, for example, the person who cuts you off or runs into you in the store. You can teach yourself to recognize these things before they happen, so that when they do happen, you will have a predetermined respectful response prepared so that you don’t indirectly “blow up” in anger at someone you love.

Speaking of people you love, the stress of the season is further compounded when having to face family members you don’t get to see all that much. The thought of seeing them and having to share a meal with them becomes even more stressful if your relationship with them has become strained over the years.

So this year for Christmas I propose a unique “gift,” and I ask a difficult question:

Should you worry more about the “perfect” gift or “how much” it’s going to “set you back,” or could you focus on more valuable “intangible things,” such as repairing a fractured relationship?

Think about it. If it were you, would you rather receive another ugly shirt, inefficient blender, useless multi-tool, or box of cookies? (OK, maybe keep the cookies). Or would you rather a family member find the courage to come forward, bury the hatchet, and start your relationship on “new ground?”

A little bit of empathy can go a long way. Seeing a situation through each other’s eyes will provide both of you with perspective, and therefore, a new level of understanding. For this, I remind you of active listening skills: LEAPS (Listen, Empathize, Ask, Paraphrase, and Summarize). Most misunderstandings between family members during the holidays stem from not actually “listening” to each other while being so busy with “other things.” Misunderstandings also occur when people fail to clarify what the speaker actually meant to say. Here, taking the time to paraphrase what they said (state back to them how you understood the meaning of what they said) will ensure that both of you are on the same page.

In being on the same page and understanding each other’s position, you can create a mutual solution the conflict and possibly repair the relationship, and if not, you might have to agree to disagree. Either way, take the time to have the conversation, so that both of you can move forward without the burden of negative emotions and stress. Then maybe, just maybe, next year at Christmas you won’t have to worry and stress about running into them. Who knows, by then, you might even be friends.

“If you don’t deal with your feelings, you have made the decision to live with them.”

Jill Weisensel
Verbal Defense & Influence Advisory Board