We’re fast approaching the time of year when people all across the country engage in the long-observed holiday tradition of gathering family members together and bickering with them. Most of us are familiar with the stereotypical dinner scene. Your cousin refers to the dish you’re passing as yams, and your sibling insists the correct term is sweet potatoes. Then tempers flare over whether marshmallows should be put on top of root vegetables. Meanwhile at the other end of the table, your dad and your uncle are feuding over capital gains tax rates.
Would you, Dear Reader, like to be the hero of this holiday season, the one who prevents disagreements from erupting into all-out mayhem and family brawls? Would you like to broker a family peace accord? Check out one of the following titles to help you hone your conflict resolution skills.
“Say What You Mean” by Oren Sofer aims to provide readers with “a mindful approach to nonviolent communication.” Much of the focus is on learning to listen with intention by developing empathy and focusing on what really matters. This doesn’t mean avoiding every tough topic, but rather learning how to discuss matters without making personal attacks. If you don’t manage to pick up a copy of this book until a few minutes before your family get together, don’t despair. You can cram at the last minute by skipping to the back of the book where there’s a summary of principles and a collection of useful communication phrases.
What about those times when the conversation has already gotten out of hand, with voices raised and blood pressures skyrocketing? Douglas E. Noll shares techniques for cooling things down in his book, “De-escalate, How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less.” This often involves ignoring the actual words being said, focusing more on the underlying feelings. He provides helpful sample conversations for practice. He does address how to deal with your own anger, as well as that of others.
In “Changing the Conversation” by Dana Caspersen, we get 17 principles of conflict resolution. These are things such as “test your assumptions” and “talk to the other person’s best self.” If 17 feels like an overwhelming number, just remember that learning even one will help. And there’s not deadline. You can keep learning and practicing for the rest of your life.