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You can't change people. But Jeannine Crofton, a registered psychologist and conflict resolution specialist in Calgary, points out you can control the way you respond to them. "So much of conflict has to do with perspective taking," she says. Remind yourself what you're hoping to get out of the holidays—like bringing the extended family together, or bonding with your colleagues. Here are quick tips for handling six of the most annoying guests. Do you recognize any?
Everyone avoids cousin Motormouth. But his never-ending jabber might not get under your skin so much if you realize he only wants to connect with people. Try distracting him with a chore, like stirring the risotto. He may find it harder to keep up his chatter while attending to the stove. Or give him something interesting to talk about, says Crofton. "If you can create new experiences at holidays, like a curling game, then it's not about past events that get discussed over and over."
The negative Nellie.
You dread inviting your pessimistic neighbour to your cocktail parties. First, let go of any pressure to please her. That's a losing battle. Instead, focus on what she adds to your gatherings. "Even though she may have a glass-half-empty perspective, it doesn't mean she doesn't make the best cheesecake or doesn't interact with the children well," says Crofton. If she criticizes the decorations or music, don't try to convince her otherwise; simply tell her you have a different opinion.
Your office party wouldn't be complete without the sulky sarcasm and backhanded compliments from your co-worker. Since passive-aggressive people use these tactics to avoid saying how they feel, you could just find out what it is they need. "Some people have never learned to ask for things, and they don't know how else to do it," says Crofton. If all that's missing is fresh ice for the drinks, it's an easy fix.
Got a tyrant who takes command over every gathering? Set the boundaries before he arrives. Whether it's a family walk or a vegan dinner, communicate the agenda to everyone in advance—so he can't derail it when he shows up by announcing it's stupid. "Usually people who are doing that need to be valued in some way," Crofton notes. "So, find them some way to use their strengths: ‘Maybe you can share with us the history of Christmas, I know you like history.'"
The drunken lech.
It's like clockwork. Your uncle gets loaded, then he gets a little gropey. Don't ignore it. "As a host, your job is to ensure that everybody is safe," says Crofton. Tell your uncle, in advance, the consequences of such behaviour: If he's drunk, for instance, he'll be sent back to his hotel in a cab. "It takes some tough conversations, but there has to be a certain code of conduct."
The lazy sloth.
Then there's the sister-in-law who never lifts a finger when she stays with you. You can't force her to pitch in. You can, however, ease your own burden. Give yourself permission to order pizza, or hire a housecleaner for the holidays. "It's about taking care of yourself," says Crofton.
Don't be one of these annoying guests. Perfect your holiday etiquette with these helpful do's and don'ts.