Eight Ways to Avoid “Foot-in-Mouth” Disease

These days, it feels like the majority of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook (and other social media platforms), e-mail, blogs, and the capability for many career positions to work remotely, most of us are more comfortable communicating online than we are in person. In fact, because we live in such a tech-inundated world, face-to-face communication skills (especially amongst young people) are at their all-time worst. Needless to say, we could all use some tips on how to avoid miscommunication—for those times when a text message or SnapChat just won’t do.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. And when it happens, it can be a disaster. It’s crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (e.g., politics and religion). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

 

  1. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you can’t control it. Filter is the one aspect of miscommunication is that most out of our control.

 

In short, here are eight ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize later on):

  • Be sure your expression (body language, facial expressions) are in sync
  • Think before you speak
  • Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position
  • Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  • Be a discerning listener when they respond
  • Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
  • Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remember, it’s okay to be professional in casual settings, but not the reverse!

How do your own in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

 Note: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

Let’s Make 2017 the Year of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

~ Epictetus

Question: what one action fosters unity, common understanding, mutual respect, healing, better decisions, more effective management, stronger marriages, families, and friendships, and greater empathy, civility, harmony, knowledge, and perspective? (I think we can all agree these are worthy causes!) Answer: Listening. If we dedicated ourselves to becoming better listeners. I believe it would change the world.

So, what about making 2017 a year when we do more listening and “sharing with” and less “talking to?” A year when we fully engage with each other to forge stronger relationships and greater understanding? And, maybe a year when we celebrate what unites us instead of focusing so much on our differences?

From my perch, this would go a long way in healing our nation, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Here’s what I’m observing:

  • Almost everything today has become politicized, with people holding entrenched views and often vilifying others simply for having different opinions or solutions (as if this will persuade). We’re talking/shouting at each other, rather than sharing our perspectives and seeking common ground. We’re spending most of our time with people who share our views rather than respectfully engaging and listening to others with different points of view (hello college administrators!). This polarizes and divides, rather than unites, and it’s impairing our relationships, mutual understanding, and civility.
  • Technology is significantly interfering with interpersonal engagement and is eroding our relationships. (Question: was this ever listed as a potential side effect when we bought our smartphones?!?) We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted when we’re together, without realizing how this devalues others.
  • Our careers are so consuming and our schedules so full that we aren’t preserving the needed time to nurture, guide, and listen to our children as we should.
  • Businesses are often so consumed with their bottom lines that they’re not fully engaging all that their employees have to offer. Some are even expecting 24-7 responses to emails, which is interfering with family time.

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps if we try these out, we can reverse course:

  1. When we’re enjoying the company of others, we adopt a no-device rule (unless we are using them together). We fully engage with our eyes, ears, and body language.
  2. We adopt the 40/60 rule in how much we talk versus listen in our conversations. (Note: with parents, it should be more like 30/70!)
  3. We spend more time trying to understand each other rather than persuade each other. We keep our conversations constructive and strive to find common ground where it exists (we might discover that our goals are the same but our methods are different!).
  4. We reserve time to invest in our relationships and fully engage
  5. We exhibit self control, respect, and civility when we differ
  6. We listen to positive influences and tune out others
  7. We seek out varying perspectives in forming our views, making decisions, and teaching students (college administrators, take note)
  8. We put our employees first when we manage our businesses
  9. We take time to listen to our spirit, to pray if we are so inclined, and to bask in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Someone once said that “silent” and “listen” are spelled with the same letters. How cool!

As someone who tends to be outgoing and opinionated, this may be among the most convicting blogs I’ve ever written. But, I’m committing myself to do better in 2017 and beyond. I hope these ideas work for you, and the people you’re influencing, too.

Win Some, Lose Some

Coke or Pepsi

Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise

Big Mac or Whopper

iPhone or Galaxy

Rap or Country

Republican or Democrat or ______

We all have our tastes and preferences, and we make our choices accordingly. Sometimes we like our options. Other times, we choose what we dislike least.

And so it goes with our elections—especially last week’s. Like you, I “won” some and “lost” some. (Thankfully, my life goes on because I don’t define my hopes and dreams or faith in America by which person or party is in office. That would be giving them way too much credit.)

But, after observing the aftermath of this election, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts to help us keep things in perspective:

  1. Our nation is clearly divided, but this shouldn’t be news to anyone. In most of my voting years, the Presidential election is always pretty close. Usually, only a few percentage points separate the winner from the loser. So, you should expect half the people will disagree with you! And, yes, they did their homework, too.
  2. Knowing this, the question is how we deal with our victories and losses. Are we constructive or destructive in the aftermath? Do the winners rub it in? Or, do they respond with humility and kindness, knowing that the losers may be struggling with fear, anger, or disappointment? Do the losers resort to whining, blaming, name calling, protesting, and shaming to make the winners feel guilty or stupid? Do they really believe these misguided efforts to “enlighten” will change minds? No, they reinforce!
  3. Let’s remember that citizens consider many different factors when casting votes. What tips the scales one way or the other may be the candidate’s person, specific policies (of which there are many), party loyalty, or other factors. Our decisions are not only influenced by the candidates’ philosophies and positions, but also in how we uniquely weigh their importance. I might emphasize economic policy and someone else foreign policy or social issues, and that’s okay. For these reasons, it is highly presumptuous (not to mention silly, useless, arrogant, and obnoxious) to judge another’s votes. Please, let’s stop this.
  4. There is a tremendous disconnect between the worldview composition of the “mainstream” media and college complexes with the people of the United States. In other words, our population is much more philosophically and politically diverse than are our primary news sources and the educators teaching our young adults. This imbalance is a concern. Judging by our governorships, congressional memberships, and the White House, our nation’s political offices (and our general elections) are quite balanced between Republicans and Democrats. Therefore, so long as our primary media outlets and college educators’ worldviews are skewed (presently Leftward) rather than balanced, there are significant implications:
    1. We are more subject to bias and alarm (intended or otherwise) and less likely to understand different points of view and election outcomes we may not like. If our news and opinion sources are primarily Left-or Right-leaning, we are more apt to consider their information as unbiased truth, when it’s often opinion. In contrast, when we pursue a variety of information sources with differing worldviews, we develop more complete, objective, and informed arguments.
    2. We become more polarized and intolerant of differing views, considering people who disagree with us as uninformed, misguided, or worse. We argue rather than respectfully seek mutual understanding and new perspectives. Or, sadly, as is becoming more prevalent on college campuses, we simply shut others down. Ironically, we often agree on the ends, but simply differ about the means to achieve them! A good example of this is the use of tax cuts or government spending to stimulate the economy. Reasonable and really smart people disagree!
    3. We lose friendships. Now, this is just dumb.

The bottom line is that, politically, we are pretty much a 50/50 nation because of legitimate differences of opinion. So, let’s be respectful and resilient. When elections don’t go our way, let’s spend a little more time respecting the judgments of others, accepting that we don’t hold a monopoly on truth, learning more about opposing views, diversifying our friendship circles and information sources, and finding constructive ways to advocate for our positions the next time around.

And, yes, there will be a next time. After all, we Americans are a fickle bunch.

6 Easy Ways to Show You Care

I hope this post finds you refreshed and uplifted after a Father’s Day well-spent with your family. Father’s day is such a special time to focus on the dads in our lives and show them our appreciation and love. This day always reminds me of the value of relationships—of mine with my parents and with my kids. I’m reminded of the strategic impact that fathers have in the roles of their children, even years after they’ve left the house!

As I reflect on the value of the relationships in my life, I’m reminded of our culture’s vulnerability to two conflicting priorities: relationships and things. While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we’ve regressed in terms of relational health and depth. Sadly, with the distractions of technology and busyness, it seems to be getting worse.

Have you taken the time to think about what you really value in life lately? What are you communicating about your priorities to the ones you love—whether intentionally or unintentionally? You can use the following list as either a self-check or a to-do list. Either way, we hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for communicating your love to others (dads, friends, children, and beyond):

  1. Be fully in the moment. When you’re with someone, be completely engaged (not on your phone, scrolling through Instagram, playing Candy Crush, Snapchatting, etc.).
  2. In a tug of war between relationships and tasks, give the edge to relationships. Our tasks may seem urgent, but relationships should take priority. This is especially true when our children need our attention. Compromise your inconvenience for the times they need your counsel.
  3. Keep family and close friends at the top of your priority list in terms of time and energy. Don’t just give them the leftovers! They deserve your best self.
  4. Express appreciation regularly. Be grateful for the people in your life and share your feelings with them. (I doubt that my kids could have known that my all-time favorite Father’s Day gift from them would be a license plate frame with the engraved words, “Dad’s are cool!”)
  5. Praise them in front of other people. Say something nice about then when they are in earshot. You will help build their self-worth and indirectly communicate how much you value them (parents, this is a great pointer for you!).
  6. Forgive offenses quickly and (really) let them go. After all, you’d want your loved ones to do the same for you, right? On a related note, pick your battles carefully and when arguments do arise, keep your cool and be an agreeable disagreer.

 

Do the people you love know how much you care about them? What creative ideas, license plate frames or otherwise, would you be willing to share?

Connect! (Part 3): Why Hope Matters

pathwaytodestinyforblogWhat does it take to “succeed” in life? This is a question we often ask not only for ourselves, but also for the young adults in our life whom we want to see thrive, succeed, and achieve their destiny.
In our work with teens, educators, and parents, we’ve developed a helpful diagram that illustrates the path that most of us travel throughout life on the road to accomplishing our goals and “life purpose” (aka “destiny”).

You can see it starts off with our personal development, which combines our education, experiences, and nurturing. Next, comes a healthy self-awareness (i.e., Who am I? What do I have to offer? What are my passions and interests?) The invaluable outgrowth of these two steps is a sense of value, hope, and belief in ourselves and our future. Buoyed by these three steps, we can now develop a positive vision for our lives that, through daily implementation, determines our DESTINY.

More often than not, as parents or educators, we tend to jump in at the “vision” or implementation stages when we want to motivate teens (i.e., “You can be whatever you want to be,” or “Study hard; clean your room; stay out of trouble!”). But, when there’s not been enough time spent on the preceding stages, the child may “check out” at the Value, Hope, and Belief step—which makes it exceedingly difficult to impart vision or teach implementation skills. All too often, they drop out of high school or become involved in high risk behavior and groups to find a sense of belonging. Bottom line, when kids don’t feel valued, they lose hope—and may miss out on reaching their full potential as a result. Their destiny is compromised.

Research and experience inform us that the best way to build value in people of all ages is to connect with them—to affirm, relate, and encourage in a relational way. So, how can we do this with our children and/or students, and particularly if our relationships are strained?

For one thing, we have to get to know them as individuals. A good relationship between any two people rests on the platform of mutual respect and valuing the other’s unique gifts and contributions. Each person has characteristics that make him or her special and that set him/her up for a unique destiny. Teens vary remarkably in their needs, reactions, communications, and behavioral styles. This impacts how they respond and relate to the world around them. As famous football commentator and coach Tony Dungy wisely said, “It’s hard to lead someone you don’t know.” This is just as true in educating (or raising) teens as it is in coaching football players!

That’s where connection comes in—and with it, value, hope, and progress toward a successful future. Connection leads to understanding, which can help you:

  1. identify what motivates (and discourages) them
  2. appreciate their strengths and be empathetic toward their challenges
  3. communicate in such a way that they receive your messages in the manner intended
  4. respond to them in such a way that they feel safe, heard, and understood
  5. have realistic expectations of them
  6. respect differences
  7. develop strategies that work best for all of you

Ultimately, when we connect with our kids and students, we foster a sense of hope and expectation they need to thrive. Hope has the power to buffer people from stress, anxiety, and the effects of negative life events. More than that, neuroscience tells us that hope actually changes brain chemistry! Hope motivates learning and enables kids to move forward to their destiny, and to absorb and apply the valuable lessons and skills they need along the way.

Bottom line, the next time there’s a challenge with a student or a child, take a step back. Consider the Pathway to Destiny and see if you can identify where that child has the greatest need right now.  Is it really for a pep talk or a how-to lesson? Or is there perhaps a need to back up a few steps, to focus on the foundations, to communicate, relate, and connect? When we do, we plant HOPE—which has exponential power to propel kids forward on the path to their destiny.

This was Part 3 in a series on Social Emotional Learning; visit our blog archive to see Part 1 and Part 2. Also, check out LifeSmart’s What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources for developing life skills, college and workplace readiness, and a strong personal leadership foundation in high school and middle school students. Conversationally written, and designed to impart life wisdom and practical skills in a relational context, our resources will help you make social emotional learning a vital part of your classroom or home environment.
 

Building Likeability Skills in Our Students

ID-10062570Although Valentine’s Day is all about love, this week we’re taking it down a notch to celebrate like—specifically, likeability! The fact is, likeability is a hallmark of successful people and an especially valuable social skill to nurture in our students. In fact, when it comes to landing a job, it’s often the deal breaker in who receives the offer (and even who wins the Presidential election!).

For some, likeability comes naturally; for others, not so much—especially when they enter new environments like college and career settings and social gatherings. Whether it’s from inexperience, low self confidence, or inadequate training, many struggle with social awkwardness (e.g., withdrawing, coming on too strong, demonstrating poor manners, and being blind to the social cues of others). Unfortunately, these tendencies can overshadow the otherwise great qualities of a person.

We’ve all been in challenging social settings and it’s never fun. But, the good news is that likeability skills can be learned with proper training and experience. To that end, I came across an excellent article written by Travis Bradberry at Forbes.com, “13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People,” which you can access here.

Here’s a list of his 13 habits, which are spot on:

  1. They ask questions
  2. They put away their phones
  3. They are genuine
  4. They don’t pass judgment
  5. They don’t seek attention
  6. They are consistent
  7. They use positive body language
  8. They leave a strong first impression
  9. They greet people by name
  10. They smile
  11. They know when to open up
  12. They know who to touch (and they touch them)
  13. They balance passion and fun

I encourage you to read the entire article as Travis elaborates on these important behaviors. If you are an educator, parent, or mentor, these make for fabulous small group discussions and (especially) role plays. Practice situations where they act out each of these 13 habits—both positively and negatively. This will not only train them how to model likeability, but it will also build awareness of important social cues like body language.

Likeability is a huge factor in successful relationship building. What additions would you make to the list?

photo: freedigitalphotos.net, jannoon028

Priceless Mentoring Conversations

mentoring

You did it! You’ve entered into one of the most important and fulfilling roles you’ll ever play. You’re a mentor. And now that you’ve signed up, you’re probably wondering, “What next?” And, then you remember all of the mentors who invested in you and how they…

  • Listened to what was on your mind and heart
  • Encouraged you every step of the way
  • Inspired you to be more than you ever imagined you could be
  • Shared real life stories to help you face difficult situations
  • Offered wisdom that you would apply in the years ahead
  • Understood you and believed in you

    These are the hallmarks of a great mentor.

If you are a new mentor, perhaps you’re asking the question, “What should we talk about?” Of course, the answer depends on the age of your mentee and whether yours is a more formal or informal mentoring relationship. If it’s a formal one, you’ll be given guidance and direction from your program leaders. Regardless, the age of your mentee will also inform your conversations…helping them navigate life NOW while sharing a glimpse of what lies ahead in the next few years. That’s different for a fourth grader than for a middle schooler or high schooler.

In our work with What I Wish I Knew at 18, we are often asked what are the most important topics to share with the younger generation, whether in the classroom, the home, or in mentoring relationships. Drawing from our recent “Leadership for a Lifetime” blog series, here are some invaluable subjects to discuss in an age-appropriate way and when the timing is right:

  1. Their uniqueness, value, and strengths. Far too many young people have an incomplete understanding of the treasure they are to this world. You can help them build their self awareness of who they are and what they have to offer. This Personal Balance Sheet exercise can help.
  2. The importance of positivity. It is said that you become the average of the five friends with whom you associate with most. Whether it’s friends, music, video games, TV, movies, or websites, surrounding yourself with positive influences is a key in life.
  3. Living with vision and intentionality. Today’s students are facing tremendous pressures, distractions, and anxiety with little margin to spare. It’s easy to become consumed with the NOW. Have them share their dreams and their goals for the next five years. Then, encourage them to make plans to turn their dreams into reality.
  4. Building a personal brand based on integrity. Brands aren’t just for businesses like Coca Cola and Starbucks! Encourage your mentees to develop a strong set of core values like integrity, work ethic, dependability, kindness, generosity, respect, teamwork, humility, and high standards of excellence. Share whom you admire the most and encourage your mentee to do the same, and you’ll open up this critical topic.
  5. The value of adversity and the power of resilience. Help them understand that adversity happens to all of us (using your own story for examples). The question is, How will we handle it? Share the personal growth you’ve gained from adversity and how those who helped you often faced similar challenges. Today’s adversity can become tomorrow’s encouragement to someone else!
  6. Time is of the essence. We’ve never faced a time when distractions were more prevalent. Help your mentees understand that time is a precious asset and should be managed accordingly.
  7. The secret formula to life. In the end, life is about how we use our time, talents, and treasure to make the world a better place. Through conversation and volunteering together, you’ll help them appreciate the formula, U>Me.
  8. Stay flexible. While you may have a lesson topic in mind, it’s important to ask whether there’s anything special they’d like to discuss. Whatever that is, that’s where you go!

We hope these suggestions lead to unforgettable conversations with you and your mentee. We salute you and wish you the very best in your mentoring relationships!

3 R’s for the New Year: Reflections, Resolutions, and (No) Regrets

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Looking back on 2015, do you have any regrets? Are there things you did and wish you hadn’t—or things you didn’t do and wish you had? Any relationships that are strained? Opportunities missed?

We all have regrets from time to time. However, you can minimize big ones (or avoid them altogether) if you periodically ask yourself the regret question and then actually do something about it. The new year is a great time to start, but reflecting on our regrets and resolutions is a great practice to adopt all year long.

For many people (myself included), personal reflection time is the area we sacrifice when our lives get busier. Unfortunately, when this happens, we can get out of balance, grow impatient, and often burn out. We’re not at our best. That’s why it’s so important—at New Year’s and all the year through—to take time to unwind and reflect. Frankly, it’s the only way we can go deep with ourselves—to explore how we’re doing and consider where we’d like to go. Find a place that inspires you and quiets your soul, and let your mind ponder some new growth possibilities. (If you are a person of faith, it’s a great opportunity to include prayer for discernment and wisdom.) You’ll be surprised by your renewed spirit and by the new ideas and insights that can surface during quiet times like this.

I also find there is wisdom to be gained from older people who are in a naturally more reflective stage of life. When I’ve asked some of them about their life regrets, I’ve heard things like:

  1. I didn’t spend enough time with my loved ones.
  2. I didn’t tell my family and friends that I loved them often enough.
  3. I was too stubborn or proud to admit my mistakes and apologize.
  4. I chose bitterness over reconciliation.
  5. I allowed my life to be consumed by work.
  6. I was too hesitant to take risks, try new things, and believe in myself.
  7. I wasted too much time.
  8. I didn’t appreciate the little things in life.
  9. I valued things over relationships.
  10. I worried too much.

Do any of these apply to you? Be honest! Although regrets run the gamut, did you notice that most involve relationships and priorities? This is why it’s so important that our life be balanced and our priorities right. When we see something is out of order, let’s resolve to make a mid-course correction.

After some time for reflection, ask yourself what resolutions you’d like to make for the upcoming year, especially those that might minimize regrets next New Year’s Eve. The Oxford English Dictionary describes resolutions as “(decisions) to do or to refrain from doing a specified thing from that time onwards, or to attempt to achieve a particular goal, usually during the coming year.” What have you been doing that you’d like to stop doing? What have you not been doing that you want to begin? Are there new growth opportunities or experiences on your bucket list? Then don’t stop there. Turn your resolutions into goals and your goals into executable actions. That’s living with intentionality!

This discipline of regrets, reflection, and resolution is a good one for all ages. Consider sharing it with the young people in your life. It will help you—and them—make needed changes and “relationship repairs” along the way. Wouldn’t it be great, though, to reach the end of 2016—and even to the end of life—and be able to say, “NO (or few) REGRETS?”

Image credit: Brianna Showalter
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Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

6 Tips for Maximizing Family Togetherness (and Avoiding Conflict)

One of the greatest things about the holiday season can also be the most challenging:

“Hooray! The whole family will be together!”
“Oh nooooo! The whole family will be together!”
Even the happiest of families has conflict, especially when large numbers of people are indoors for extended periods. Add to the mixture the complexity of holiday activities and expectations, kids coming home from college, relatives travelling from afar, and other friends and family popping in and out. It’s not hard to see why the holidays can be stressful on our relationships!

It helps to have a good strategy for dealing with the (inevitable) conflicts that will surface when extended family and friends gather. When tension or arguments arise, you’ll be able to keep your cool, extend grace, and navigate the holidays with a “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” mentality!

Here are six tips to help you manage (and preferably avoid!) conflict this holiday season:

Be sensitive to the need for private space. Having a full house during the holiday season means that people who typically do not live together are now under one roof. This can be particularly stressful for teens in the family, and for “introverts” who tend to feel drained rather than energized by crowds of people. Sometimes this is hard for the “extroverts” to relate to! Respecting these differing needs for personal space can help avoid resentment and conflict.
Ask yourself, “Does this issue need to be addressed now?” Keep your emotions in check; pause before you respond to a snide comment, an inconvenient request, an entitled attitude, a grievance, or even a simple difference of opinion. The less we react emotionally in the moment, the more we’re able to respond gracefully and tactfully at the right time with the right attitude. Circle back to discuss the problem when you are feeling less heated about it. You may find it doesn’t need to be discussed at all.
If it does need to be addressed now, respect yourself and your right to be heard. Sometimes we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or embarrassment. Although conflict is uncomfortable, sometimes we do need to speak up about an obvious problem that is causing distress for us or another person. In the process, we want to respect ourselves by speaking up about it, while being respectful to the other party.
Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflict arises from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer (Hello politics!). Always strive for mutual understanding, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If needed, have a heartfelt conversation about it once things have calmed.
Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong, and injustice, or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. When we harbor grudges or struggle to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer, and generally the person who suffers for it is you. Strive for forgiveness, and reconciliation whenever possible—and don’t hesitate to seek support.
Remember “FLPP.” In our book Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, we offer a strategy for dealing with conflict, restoring strained relationships, and rebuilding trust. It involves keeping your communication with that person FREQUENT, LOW-RISK, POSITIVE, and PERSONAL. What can you talk about that doesn’t provoke irritation or conflict, is encouraging and positive, and shows you care? Focus on these kinds of interactions to build a platform for deeper conversations at a later date.

May your holidays be peaceful and merry!

We’d love to hear your stories about how you avoid or negotiate conflict in your family over the holidays. Please share your thoughts and suggestions. We can all learn from one another!