Communicating at Christmas: arrgh!

We’re all getting a bit busier in our pre-Christmas preparations – writing cards, wrapping presents, hoping the postal strike won’t stop our cards from being delivered – and working really hard towards creating a “perfect” Christmas. We often choose to spend the festive period with friends and family and use this as an opportunity to catch up with those we perhaps haven’t been with much. However, with this desire to create perfection comes a hope that our differences with others will suddenly be resolved and grudges forgotten. What I see in the counselling room though is that these difficulties are far from forgotten and raise their heads with the drinking of Sherry and Baileys and the being in close proximity to each other.

In the NHS, I was told during my nurse training that the number one source of complaints was lack of communication or poor communication. Patients and their families were often very generous in their forgiveness when medical staff make mistakes or fall short in some way, however their anger is more about that they weren’t kept in the picture. And I think this is true in all our relationships: communication done badly has very real and lasting consequences. The voice in our head is very good at assuming what others think and feel about us, and this same voice speaks very loudly of our expectations of others’ behaviour, but this voice is a thought in our minds and actually we cannot know what others think and feel about us or expect from us unless this is communicated in some way.

For the sake of this piece, I shall call this person Janet. She is not a current or past client but an amalgamation of people I have met personally and professionally over the years. Janet dreads Christmas every year because she feels that she is expected to have the  whole family over at hers for the day, and she feels the pressure to present the traditional Christmas meal with crackers and treats. Speaking to Janet, she is in fact tired of doing this every year and has a growing resentment to her sister-in-law who never offers to help or host, and as a result Janet is dreading Christmas and hears herself making snide remarks to her sister-in-law and brother when she’s a little bit tipsy. Presented here in this way it seems quite clear that Janet just needs to speak to her sister-in-law about how she’s feeling, but she doesn’t as she does not want to start any conflict – but the conflict’s already there.

Counsellors and life coaches are a great source of help to enable you to begin to think and plan how you might go about having these difficult conversations without conflict or aggression, and with assertiveness.