Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


7 Ways to Avoid Arguments During the Holiday Season

A woman threw a cookbook at her sister-in-law and screamed: “Maybe now you can cook a holiday dinner for us sometime.”

With the holiday season here again, there are lots of opportunities for gift-giving, party-going and joyful celebrating. But, as the above story illustrates, there are also lots of opportunities for conflict.

It’s easy for people to become stressed during the holidays, and as a result to become bothered by or blow up at another person’s behavior. Plus, we tend to have the same conflicts year after year with the same people – conflicts that are never resolved but simply pushed aside until they flare up again.

Here are 7 “polite and powerful” suggestions for handling holiday conflict:

1. Accept what you can influence and what you can’t.  When you realize that you don’t have control over everything, it is much easier to accept things that are not within your power to manage.  If your father has remarried, he will bring his wife to the New Year’s brunch.

2. Ask yourself: does it really matter?  Can you let it go? If you see your great aunt only once a year, can you tolerate her behavior?  Yes, I know you are hearing her stories for the tenth time, but listening to her recall a happier time in her life is a kindness to her.  

3. Identify the real issue. When you get upset, it can be difficult to zero in on what truly is bothering you. Take time and think about the situation.  It is easy to get upset about a current situation that masks a deeper concern. Is the issue that your brother arrives late to the holiday dinner, or that he doesn’t visit your mother in her retirement home?

4. Be clear about what you want from the person. We often get upset with someone, but we don’t always know what we want from the other person. Be specific. If you would like your sister-in-law to contribute to the holiday dinner, you can ask:  “Joan, will you please bring a vegetable dish on Sunday?” Additional information on putting your words together for a positive confrontation can be found in my book, The Power of Positive Confrontation.

5. Use polite language.  Practice saying the words out loud. Listen to how they sound.  Are they harsh or attacking?  Don’t pounce on the other person with statements such as “You’re selfish…” or “You’re such a cheap-skate… .” These types of accusations are counterproductive to resolving conflict, and can lead to more conflict.

6. Confront in private.  If you do decide to say something, you don’t want others to hear the conversation. It can be embarrassing to the other person and to the people who hear the discussion. By extension, this means no posting any comments about the conversation on any social media sites. Also, make sure you are calm when you initiate this talk. If you are agitated, it is easy to blow up.

7. Listen to the other person’s response. He or she may offer a reasonable alternative point of view, or provide an explanation for the behavior. Perhaps your sister isn’t flying home for the holidays because of financial difficulties she is too embarrassed to discuss.

When you know how to confront politely on the major issues, it is easier to let the little ones go.  Enjoy your time with family and friends.  Happy holidays!

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on assertive communication and conflict. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or


  1. Anonymous12/16/2013

    From A Reader:
    These are great and timely tips, Barbara! I would add that, on the other side of the coin, we should remain calm if we find ourselves on the receiving end of ill tempers and not respond in kind. Should someone snap at you, try to be sympathetic rather than reactionary and chalk it up to stress. And this is a season in which everyone is under stress to meet additional deadlines to get work done, shopping completed, house cleaned, decorations up, and so on. Add to that the diminishing time between jobs, social engagements (some that are obligatory and not especially enjoyable), crowded stores and end of term homework and tests. And that's not to mention that many people become rundown and susceptible to colds and other viruses, which makes them even crankier! So, I'm all for trying to spread calm and keep the peace in the face of heightened ill behavior, and find that frequently responding with humor – under the right circumstances, of course – can diffuse a tense situation.

  2. Anonymous12/16/2013

    From A Reader:
    Your '7 ways to avoid arguments' are so relevant for anytime of the year, Barbara. The one I find that can cause a lot of unneeded stress is No.2 - Ask yourself - Does it really matter?

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