Family conflict can be an unfortunate part of the holidays. Sheila McNamee, Professor of Communication, offers some helpful advice on what to do when tensions turn into tantrums.
McNamee suggests families not focus on the content of the disagreement and instead look at the disruptive patterns that they find themselves in over and over and over again. “It is those patterns that need to change, not the people and not (necessarily) the content,” she says.
When disagreements do arise, the best way to diffuse tension is to approach conflict with genuine curiosity, which goes to the heart of how people develop meaningful relationships. “Rather than do the knee-jerk thing – trying to figure out who is right, who is wrong or who is to blame – try to find out what relationships or communities the other person is part of where this way of being (this belief or value) makes sense,” McNamee says.
“In other words, I grant to the other the ‘right’ of rationality. Your actions may look irrational, wrong or evil to me but they must be rational, right and good to you in some context. The goal is understanding each others’ actions, not necessarily getting everyone to agree,” she says.