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Crucial Applications: The Relative Your Relatives Could Be Like

Our research shows nine out of ten people who are skilled at holding crucial conversations enjoy their family gatherings—despite the unruly behavior of their relatives.

So to kick off the festivities, our award-winning video team presents Holiday Spice: Relatively Speaking . . .

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Follow these four recommendations for talking to unruly relatives about their bad behavior so you can strengthen relationships and enjoy your family gatherings:

Work on me first. How you see your relatives determines how you treat them. To soften judgments, ask yourself, “Why would a reasonable, rational and decent person do what they’re doing?” For example, do you see your Uncle Fester with a poor driving record as criminally irresponsible or as harried and in need of help?

Make it safe. When confronting bad behavior, first help the other person know you care about his or her interests. For example, if Uncle Fester is coming down with the flu and kissing everyone he greets, begin with, “Uncle Fester, it wouldn’t be a holiday if I didn’t get a hug. I’m glad you’re so affectionate and warm to all of us, but . . . .”

Just the facts. Start with the facts and strip out accusatory, judgmental and inflammatory language. “Uncle Fester, I notice you are sick. And I noticed you’ve been double-dipping your chips in the bowl . . . .”

Tentatively share concerns. Having laid out the facts, tell the person why you’re concerned, but don’t do it as an accusation—share it as an opinion. “My concern is that with all of us in such close proximity, we’re all going to come down with the flu. I know you don’t want that either.”

Invite dialogue. After sharing your concerns, encourage the other person to share his—even if he disagrees with you. One of the best ways to persuade others is to listen to them. “So Uncle Fester, is there a way we can get your warmth and love without getting more than you mean to give? Or am I seeing this wrong?”

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