When Bad Relatives Happen to Good People

PROVO, UT – November 3, 2008 – Images of Thanksgiving dinner and a house full of relatives should conjure up feelings of happiness and good memories. But for people like Leslie Criner, these two ingredients are a recipe for another disastrous family gathering.

As soon as Criner's family sat down to their Thanksgiving spread, her sister and mother engaged in a shouting match across the dinner table, complete with four-letter words, banging fists and spitting food. Why the embarrassing uproar? Criner's mother thought it would be totally inappropriate to give two infant cousins of opposite sex a bath together.

According to an annual study conducted by VitalSmarts and the New York Times bestselling authors of Crucial Confrontations, Criner is not alone. Four out of five people have had their family gatherings and holiday events ruined by the actions of an unruly relative.

That Thanksgiving dinner was the first and last time Criner's grandmother attended family gatherings at her home. And sadly, Criner reports that these outbursts are “typical.” Despite her relatives' unacceptable behavior, nothing has changed—another common trend according to the survey.

The survey of more than 1,500 respondents revealed that despite widespread family dysfunction, 64 percent of people have never resolved the issues that plague their family gatherings. The most common methods of coping include avoiding certain relatives, withdrawal and backbiting—tactics that rarely work. (Survey results available here.)

The study revealed that 93 percent of respondents have seen no improvement in their relationships as a result of their silence, and family gatherings have not improved either. More than 400 respondents said they would rather be “poked in the eye with a sharp stick” than attend a family gathering with certain relatives.

According to Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Crucial Confrontations, the reason most people would rather compromise valuable relationships than openly confront unruly behavior is because they consider the costs of speaking up and decide it's a bad idea.

“Whether it's precedent, long-standing family dynamics, or plain old fear, something tells us that remaining silent will yield more results than possibly offending, alienating, or further driving family members apart,” says Grenny. “And yet, what we don't talk out, we act out. It's only a matter of time before our anger and frustration manifest themselves as bad behavior that can ruin relationships.”

Grenny says with the right set of skills, anyone can confront unruly behavior in a way that will not only mitigate future family disasters, but also rebuild broken family ties.

About VitalSmarts

An innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, VitalSmarts is home to award-winning training products that deliver powerful tools for enriching relationships and improving end results. The company also has three New York Times bestselling books, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer. VitalSmarts has been listed twice on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies and has taught more than 2 million people worldwide. www.vitalsmarts.com

Note to editor: Joseph Grenny, coauthor of, Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior, can give your readers/viewers tips on how to
confront unruly relatives to restore relationships and mitigate future family disasters. Tips available upon request. Respondents' personal stories of ruined family gatherings are also available upon request, along with contact information.

About the research: The study collected responses via an online survey tool from 1,575 individuals. Margin of error is approximately 3%. Full survey results are available here.

CONTACT: Brittney Maxfield of VitalSmarts, L.L.C. +1-801-724-6272, or bmaxfield@vitalsmarts.com.

graphic displaying top 5 reasons why relatives behave badly

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