The holidays can be a hotbed for conflict, not only because it is often mixed company cooped up in close quarters, but that our usual distractions (concerns with work, etc.) are usually gone. There is a level of honesty or, perhaps more accurately, bluntness that occurs around the holiday dining table, at the company office party and at the family gatherings. And maybe, if you are an introvert like myself, the nonstop social activities wear you down well before the season is over.
I’ve found there are two classic quotes to help you keep your sanity – and get along better with even the most obstinate companions.
It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows
The famous Stoic Epictetus was right on the money. How can you listen to someone else’s opinion, take or expertise if you believe you already know what they are sharing with you? You can’t.
A majority of the conflicts you’ll encounter come down to someone believing the other person isn’t listening – which may be true! Even a simple, common experience, like having your first child or traveling to Paris, is remarkably different for each individual. If you’ve experienced something someone else has done, that doesn’t mean you know what they felt, gained or learned.
Try focusing on being silent rather than getting your say in every conversation. It is amazing what you’ll learn and, since every conversation has a natural rhythm, you’ll know when you actually have something to contribute.
Do you believe the person is doing the very best that he or she can?
It is a rephrasing from Brene Brown’s excellent book Rising Strong. Whenever she felt herself harshly judging someone, Brown would ask herself the question. It would always stop her in her tracks.
Here’s an excerpt where she talks about it:
The most compassionate people … assume that other people are doing the best they can. I lived the opposite way: I assumed that people weren’t doing their best, so I judged them and constantly fought being disappointed …
As I talked about in a previous column, we often judge another person based on our own skills and experiences, and yet would likely fall short if we were judged by their strengths. You are not perfect. Neither are they.
What I find special about these two ideas is that they apply well beyond the social scene. For instance, harshly criticizing a co-worker seems silly if you realize that you could actually learn from them and that they are doing their best within their circumstances.
Opening your mind doesn’t mean you will become close friends with someone, but it does mean you’re allowing yourself to get to know them better. That in itself is a triumph and, likely, a gateway to a more peaceful relationship.