Mediator Education Program

Holiday season can be a time when the things that divide us seem much harder to deal with. Especially when alcohol consumption is part of the event, holiday gatherings can be very challenging with family, friends, or co-workers who don’t share our views.  Am I imagining it or has loud, divisive self-expression become a “thing”, perhaps an outcome of the recent U.S. election climate? Some days it seems international diplomacy is simple compared with navigating family holiday events. 

It helps to approach the holidays with a Holiday Peace Plan to make sure our holiday conversations are peaceful and communicate the level of thoughtfulness that we would like. You may not find it easy but your struggle will likely provide a return that is well worth the effort.   Here are five tips to help.

1.  Listen to them. Understand them and tell them what you understand.    If you are listening carefully enough to be able to summarize back to them what you think they said, then you are listening actively. If your summary is not correct, they will likely say more to help you understand clearly. Active listening means you cannot ignore what they say and wait to jump back into the conversation with an argument, “Yah, but…” 

If you’re not sure what they said, ask questions to clarify your understanding. An interesting thing often happens when you use your active listening skills:  they will mirror back the same behavior.  No argument there.

2.  Be curious.     Your tone of voice and body language must also communicate the mindset that you are actively listening and seeking to understand their point of view. Being genuinely curious about their beliefs, values, hopes and fears helps to open up a deeper dialogue.  When you get to the core of what’s important, it often allows a richer understanding that may not have seemed possible with the previous superficial conversation. 

3.  Keep an open mind.    Be willing to learn something new, to consider other ideas. This means that you may need to question your assumptions or suspend judgment.  You might even find that you could be wrong.

If you start to feel angry or offended, take a breath. While you are breathing slowly and deeply, consider whether your own biases or assumptions are contributing to your emotional response.  Give them a chance to clarify and try to prevent a breakdown in communication.

4.  Tell them stories from your own experience.    Telling stories from your own experience to help describe your point of view is much more effective than arguing over statistics. The phrase “I remember when…” is a very helpful way to start. 

This shifts the conversation away from argument and allows more possibility for a personal connection. Your experience is not likely to invite a defensive response from your listener and may help to build empathy.

5.  End on a positive note.    You may be able to shift the conversation to the ideas you both share. There may be beliefs, values, hopes or fears upon which you agree, even if you disagree on other aspects. You may even be able to reach a complete agreement.  Sometimes when we really listen to each other we find that we’re not as far apart as we thought.

Even if you do not reach agreement, find a way to end on a positive note. Differences of opinion are a normal part of being human.  For example, you could end the conversation by saying that you appreciate hearing more about their perspective, thank them for their willingness to talk with you, or tell them that you learned something from them.  Just because you disagree with them on this topic does not mean you can’t get along well with them. You can leave the door open for another peaceful conversation with them in the future.

Invest your time and energy wisely in the people that matter to you. Use your Holiday Peace Plan to build positive holiday memories which will remain long past this holiday season for yourself and those around you. 



Mediator Education Program