n addition to a lot of extra shopping and cooking, the holidays bring a flurry of social events, work parties and extended visits with family members. While it’s great to connect with old friends and new acquaintances, it’s also guaranteed that not everyone will get along, especially during a season that can bring as much stress as it does joy.

It can be hard to know what to do or say during those difficult moments. Often we choose to let an awkward or unkind comment pass for the sake of group harmony. But when is a hard conversation worth having and when do you simply let a comment pass?

The answer isn’t always clear. Arguing politics at the dinner table with your 96-year-old aunt probably won’t change her mind and could spoil the meal for everyone. But remaining silent when a family member, neighbor or colleague makes an ignorant or hurtful comment aimed at yourself or others isn’t right either. Sometimes we have to speak up to prevent further harm. 

Silence can be seen as complicity, says Jill Buckingham, director of Mental Health at Northeast Youth and Family Services. When a person’s comments cross an ethical line for you, there are ways to address the comment without escalating the situation. These techniques are the basis of nonviolent communication.

To effectively discuss a disagreement, Buckingham says that it’s very important to be aware of how you disagree. Meeting disrespect with disrespect makes a tense situation worse and decreases the likelihood that the person will listen to what you have to say. 

Instead of getting angry, Buckingham suggests getting curious. Saying something like, “That’s interesting to me. That’s not how I see it but I’d like to learn more about why you feel that way,” gives the person an opportunity to have a deeper conversation and can lead to a better understanding and deeper empathy between both parties. You may also have preconceived ideas about why they made that hurtful comment. They may have the same preconceptions about your beliefs. You may both be wrong. 

Sometimes that deeper, more effective conversation happens right away. But often it doesn’t and you should accept that, too, Buckingham says. Connection and understanding take time and the person you are talking to might need to think about your words for awhile. Or they might be surprised that you pushed back against what they said or believe, or they may not be willing to have a conversation at all. However, practicing nonviolent communication techniques decreases the chance that they will dismiss your viewpoint and increases the likelihood that they will examine their own. 

Regardless of the outcome of your hard conversation, you will know that you were true to yourself and at the same time respectful of the other person. And in this increasingly isolated and divisive age, you might just be setting an example that others can learn from.

For more information about nonviolent communication techniques, please visit the Center for Nonviolent Communication’s website at cnvc.org.

If you need additional help managing conflicts in your own life, please consider contacting Northeast Youth & Family services at 651-486-3808 or www.nyfs.org or some other mental health service provider. 

From all of us at Northeast Youth & Family Services, we wish you a happy and heartfelt holiday season. 


Jerry Hromatka is President & CEO of Northeast Youth & Family Services

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