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Clear is Kind: How to Communicate with Family

Dealing with family this holiday season, keep in mind… CLEAR IS KIND.

Saying things like, "I think I'd maybe like, you know, if we had only one meal instead of three major events." Or, "Don't you think it would be better if you came for a couple of days instead of flying in at the last minute and jetting as soon as we're done?" are very indirect, passive ways to express how you're feeling. Your family may draw the conclusions you're hoping them to draw… or they may not.

Passive responses are confusing as well. Saying you'll be there at 10, but then showing up two hours late because you felt like sleeping in? Agreeing to bring mashed potatoes like your mom asked, but then bringing green bean casserole instead? Wandering in to watch TV while everyone else cleans up? Every one of those could be interpreted by your family as disrespect, selfishness, and entitlement.

Indirect communication, as gentle as it may feel, is also very unclear and leaves room for misunderstanding, assumption, and unnecessary offense. Avoidance of conflict may feel easier momentarily, but makes life miserable for everyone in the long run. Relatives are left wondering exactly what you're saying. Are you bossing them around? Making a suggestion that you don't really care about either way? Expressing hurt? Saying you don't like them? Who knows!?!

If you want communication in your family to improve, it starts with you. Be clear. Ask for what you want instead of hinting around it.

"Can we please make the gift exchange limit $50 instead of $100?"

"Could we make sure there is at least one or two dishes that don't include meat?"

"Would I be able to use a bedroom for an hour after the meal so I can get a quick re-charge nap?"

Asking clearly makes it possible to cooperate more effectively as a team. Your family will better know how to care for you if they want to, and you'll know what you need to do to care for yourself in the areas where they're unwilling or unable. Remember that everyone has a right to say no to each other's requests! Thankfully, as adults, no one owns us but ourselves, which means each person is responsible for themself.

And be honest in your discontent. Your family can't respond effectively to your hurt or unhappiness unless you let them know clearly. They can't make solid plans for themselves if you're misleading in your commitments. If you are passively throwing a fit like a baby to show them you're hurt, you are just continuing the hurtful cycle.

Sometimes we have to say no for our health. Those nos may be sad for our families, but they can be grieved. And being honest with those who love you encourages them to make adjustments in their own lives to take better care of themselves.

Even though direct communication can be hard, even painful in a moment, it leads to a path forward, where everyone is able to care for themselves the way they need to and cooperate more effectively as a team. Clear is kind.

Unsplash: Bud Heissen

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