5 Building Blocks for Communicating with Difficult Family Members

Difficult people are everywhere and, when we come upon them, challenge us to find a way to deal with them for a certain period of time without losing our peace and integrity. Difficult family members, though, can really get under your skin and it is not so easy to just remove oneself from the situation.

Opportunities for issues or conflicts to arise grow considerably when families gather for a special occasion or holiday. Try as hard as you may, there is almost always some family member who will go out of their way to push your buttons.

There are a number of things you can do to deal with difficult relatives, but one of the main areas is effective communication. Let’s explore five building blocks which will help you communicate efficaciously with family while keeping your cool:

Five Building Blocks to Effective Communication

  1. Acceptance – it is important to temper your expectations about what your relatives or family members want or are willing to do. Accept them exactly for who they are. We often try and help those whom we love, trying to fix them or make their lives better. Resist the temptation. Accept that your loved one is, at this moment, unable to change.
  2. Encouragement – encourage your difficult family member to express themselves. Allow them to fully explain their point of view about a given topic or issue. Listening to them, rather than trying to engage, may just do the trick in getting them to feel like they have a safe and neutral forum to say what is on their mind.
  3. Awareness – be on the watch for trigger topics, those points that stir up disagreement and discord. Know what topics cause disharmony amongst the family and be vigilant for these topics surfacing in conversation. Prepare yourself beforehand to address these points in a direct yet non-confrontational way, or to mitigate the conflict if things become too heated. Know, too, that some topics should just be off-limits and avoided at all costs. Base this on your experiences from past encounters where you were left stressed or feeling angry or hurt. Such topics should be permanently off-limits.
  4. Perspective – focus on what the other person is saying and know that nine times out of 10, their issue is not with you. When an individual fails to get a resolution to an issue where they felt upset or angry, the conversation can become heated and lead to personal attacks. Do not take what is said personally. Hone in on the issue at hand to lead the discussion back to resolving that issue. Stay respectful and attentive, but do not let the interaction challenge your own well-being.
  5. Assertiveness – when a person feels attacked, it triggers the fight or flight response and leads to one becoming defensive. If the conversation becomes heated and you are being attacked personally, take a moment, count to three in your head, and then express yourself in a direct and assertive manner. Stay focused on how you respond, keeping true to yourself and your own integrity. If the conversation escalates to the point of no return, stop interacting with the family members and leave the conversation.

We can’t choose our family, but we can choose how we communicate and interact with them. With a little forethought and planning, you can keep those difficult family members in check and quell any family conversations that may escalate to conflict and hurt feelings.


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