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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
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Don’t Let a Grinch Steal Christmas

Don’t Let a Grinch Steal Christmas

While the holidays are a wonderful time to get together and celebrate, there are some people who seem to use this time to become overly critical, spread unhappiness, and complain. They are grinches.

What do we do about those people?

First, we need to recognize that the holidays put us in contact with family and friends that we don’t always see often, so it is necessary to realize that different people respond to the same situations in different ways. A fun activity for you, such as going to a movie, may not be fun for someone who doesn’t like to sit still. So ASK, don’t ASSUME when planning activities.

Second, the people closest to us, either at home or at work, are often those who frustrate us the most because we have unmet or disappointed expectations.

We often expect our loved ones or people we see 8-10 hours a day to read our minds, know what we mean even when we are not clear, and respond the way we would respond. When they don’t, we are disappointed. This can set people up for hurt feelings. To preclude those problems, again, don’t assume. Make sure that you use more words, not less, and make sure everyone is clear on what is expected, when, and why.

Third, some people just tend to complain. They don’t like the food, the decorations, or Aunt Betty’s casserole. Regardless of how perfectly things turn out, they will choose to be unhappy. You cannot do much to make unhappy people happy, but you can deflect their comments by asking a question, changing the topic, or refocusing their attention. With toddlers we call it bait and switch – it works on grinches, too.

Fourth, remember that holiday commitments and lack of time can strain some normally very nice people to the point where they become difficult. They may complain more, criticize more, or try to get others to take sides. Understand that this can be a normal reaction to stress, but don’t fall prey to the negativity.

The key to dealing with other people’s negativity is to manage our internal reactions first. Both at home and at work, breathe deeply, remain calm, stay focused, be cheerful, and stick to the facts. Ask difficult people questions to shift from the emotional to the rational, such as:

* What do you need from me?

* What outcome would you like today?

* How can I help you right now?

Asking people who are being difficult to see beyond the emotion of the moment pushes the dialogue into problem-solving instead of complaining.

When that one irritating person starts to impact others, another technique is to pull them out of the situation and ask them to regroup, assess the problem, vent, agree on reactions, then rejoin the group.

This does not mean being a doormat to smooth over every little conflict. Let’s face it, there are some grinches out there. People who behave badly need to be addressed and the behavior cannot be allowed to ruin events for others.

Most holiday tensions are the result of lack of time, desire to please others, and expectations that are impossible for even Currier and Ives to meet.

Encourage people to participate in festivities, allow for imperfections, and remember that during celebratory holiday events, it is more important to be together than to have perfection.

Choose to be happy and truly celebrate this holiday season. Decide that if people are cranky, that we will take a page from Frozen and let it go.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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