Friday, 4 December 2015

Conflict Communication and the Holidays: Part I

Have you noticed that some people get crankier as the holidays approach?

Some people are jolly, but because of the pressure that they put on themselves in the run-up to... however they celebrate or don’t celebrate the holidays... the stress builds and the grumpiness comes out.

This leads to conflict in many cases as the stress bubbles over and crankiness and grumpiness turn more aggressive.

 I was in the supermarket a short while ago and the couple in front of us were involved in a kerfuffle with the check out clerk. Well, the husband was involved in the altercation, which was over whether he had the right coupon for a discount on some Christmassy item he had in his trolley. He was far more belligerent than he needed to be; demanded to see the manager and was downright rude to the check out chap.

Now maybe this guy is always that hard-line, though actually, his wife did come up to apologise to us and the manner of her apology did make me think this was not his usual way of communicating. Who knows?

It did put me in mind that I seem to see more of these kind of public displays of angst at this time of year than at other times.

Not only that, within the space of two days I heard of two couples I know who have just decided to split – an extreme form of the inability to resolve whatever conflict is going on in their lives. I put a lot of this down to the pressure people take on around the holidays. When I had my psychotherapy practise, round about the end of November/beginning of December was when clients began to display ever-increasing signs of stress and an inability to handle even minor conflicts. 

Stages of Conflict 

Conflict is hard for most people at the best of times. Chuck in a couple of extra stressors like money worries at Christmas or dread at the upcoming festivities, it's no wonder anger bubbles up at the drop of a hat or a perceived incompetent check out clerk. Rational communication is often nowhere to be found either.

I'd like to unpick some of the stages of conflict because so often the issue that the conflict is about isn't the first stage at all; the first stage may have happened days, weeks or even years ago.

Stage One: The first stage is usually a situation, issue, upset or difficulty during which you don't say anything, you swallow your hurt or distress and hide how you are feeling. This may actually be a wise and pragmatic thing to do. There have been numerous times when I've bitten my tongue when it wouldn't have served any purpose to have opened my yap and might even have made the situation worse.

Stage Two is the crucial one. Did you let those feelings go or did you tuck them away in a little storehouse in your brain or heart? If you let them go, all well and good. Holding your tongue served a purpose and you didn't lug any residual feelings around with you.

However, if you did package up those resentments and shove them in your memory bank, then they will have had plenty of opportunity to grow and fester.

Stage Three: Then along comes another scenario and Stage Three is born where, again, if you hang on to your contained and unexpressed emotions the packages begin to mount up. You now need trunks to store your aggrieved feelings in.

Stage Four involves the triggers. As I said earlier, the triggers aren’t usually the actual root cause of the conflict – they are often the obvious justifications for getting drawn into conflict and one of the main reasons why some conflict is so difficult to resolve.

Take a minute to think of a recent conflict you were involved in and see if you can identify the trigger or triggers. Can you identify whether the argument was genuinely about the trigger or could it have been something deeper? If it was something deeper and perhaps more complex did it ever come up during the conflict or were you both sticking to the trigger?

I believe that the more we understand how conflict happens, the better able we will be to resolve it. 

I’ll be writing Part II shortly, with a range of hints and tips to help resolve conflict and get some reasonable communication going.

Check out Impact Factory's Conflict Management, Assertiveness and Communication courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

1 comment:

  1. Interesting points but I think SAD and 'winter blues' are major contributing factors to people needing therapy this time of year.
    When I see hostility over money in public - like the man you saw who wanted to use his voucher - I'd say that had a lot to do with his financial situation and fear over his bills. When you've got money you don't tend to notice that aggressiveness from others can be attributed to financial problems in many cases.