20 December 2019

Avoiding conflict at Christmas time

| Karyn Starmer
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Conflict at Christmas time can be avoided with some planning. Photo: File.

Peace on earth and goodwill to all at Christmas time, so the saying goes, except of course if you have overbearing relatives, annoying neighbours or you are so worn out from the build-up to the big day you feel stretched to breaking point.

If that all sounds familiar, Conflict Resolution Service chief executive officer Melissa Haley says despite the pressure, Christmas need not end in conflict if people take some time to think and plan ahead.

“Christmas is a really lovely time of year, a time when we have an opportunity to spend some quality time with our families and friends, to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, it can also be a trigger for some pretty awful conflict and disputes,” Haley said.

“We scramble towards the end of the year trying to get everything ready but we often forget to look after ourselves. Christmas can be a time of juggling expectations, rushing around before everything shuts down, and even the kids are tired.”

Family dispute enquiries rise each Christmas but Haley says that with a little planning and strategy, conflict can be avoided if we focus on the positives.

“Think about being flexible and keep conversations light. Christmas is not the time for forcing an issue,” Haley said.

Strategies for dealing with family include focusing on allowing people to relax and unwind. Allow for flexibility and expect variations in Christmas traditions and expectations.

“As your kids get bigger they may not be as willing to have their photo taken with Santa and the older ones may not want to spend as much time with their family. It’s a festive time of the year. Work with your teenager to find ways that allow them to celebrate Christmas with both family and friends,” Haley said.

When it comes to conversations with family at Christmas time, Haley recommends families focus on what went well in 2019.

“Ask people how their year has been, talk with your kids and family members about what they all enjoyed most about their year and what they’re hoping to get out of 2020.”

Many of us have judgemental or annoying relatives. Haley recommends planning ahead and working out how you are going to take some time out if you need to diffuse a situation.

“If you find yourself getting annoyed or angry, go for a walk around the block, move into a different room or clear the dishes. If you have a strategy in advance if you know what might be a trigger point, you will be in a better position to handle stresses,” Haley said.

With homes filling with friends and relatives, your local neighbourhood may not be as quiet as you like. Haley says it is important to keep in mind that it is party season.

“Try to give your neighbours a little bit of leeway during this time of year; after all, this is the season for giving.”

If you think a situation has got out of hand, Haley recommends people stop and think before taking any action.

“Decide what your needs or concerns may be regarding the situation. Don’t assume the other person already knows there is a problem; in many cases, they won’t. If you have a problem with noise or parking, whatever it is, calmly consult with your neighbours before you take any action that may negatively impact them. Explain the situation from your perspective and try not to make accusations.”

Haley says that if you take the time to listen to your neighbour’s side, making them feel heard, they will be more likely to work with you to find a resolution.

“Use Christmas time as an opportunity to get to know your neighbours. Often there are street parties, go along and get to know the people who live around you. You may not have another opportunity during the year to say hello or check in on your neighbours. Spread a little Christmas cheer and get to know those around you.”

Read more about Conflict Resolution Service.

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