Got a feisty family? Mediator offers tips on how to handle holiday fights

Nov 26, 2019

Rather than risk a fight at the family dinner table, some people try to steer away from political conversations during the holidays. If you can’t stop that opinionated uncle from airing his latest grievance, though, you should have a game plan for dealing with disagreements.

Gail Ferraioli is a mediator who works with couples, families and nonprofits. She said learning how to diffuse arguments is crucial. Ferraioli said one of the worst things you can do in an argument is dismiss another person’s opinions. Empathize instead, she said.

“Appreciate what someone has said even if it triggers us. You know, to be be able to say, 'Thanks for helping me better understand where you’re coming from. I appreciate that you took the time to share that with me,’ ” said Ferraioli.

If you disagree with an opinion, Ferraioli said it's best to steer the conversation away from blame or denunciation because that will likely stoke the flames in any argument. Instead, she suggests self-reflection, especially with family.

“What is really hurting me? If it’s really more important for me to be right than to understand my brother right now, where is that coming from? Why do I need to be right with him? What’s in our past?"

Ferraioli also highlighted the power of sarcastic remarks. She says when you use them in an argument, it could make things worse. But it sometimes can be used to lighten the mood.

“Sometimes a little self-deprecation goes a long way in easing tension. It can also be a nice segue to change the subject,” Ferraioli said with a laugh. “Especially if you’re at the table.”

In the end, Ferraioli said it’s most important to empathize and understand a loved one's thoughts.