snakes

Avoiding The Snakepits

The holiday season can be a very traumatic time. Although most of us love to be with our family, there are many dangers when it comes to this time of year. There is societal and cultural pressure to spend time with individuals that one might not otherwise associate with just because they are family. I feel very lucky that there is no family member that I can think of  I totally dislike. That being said, there are many conversation topics that come up during family gatherings that make my skin crawl.

A major issue that I have experienced in family gatherings and interactions is emotional triggers. Often even a family member that I really enjoy spending time with will bring up subject or phrase, which triggers a defensive reaction. I have seen red faces and tears at several family functions due to poorly placed words or bad timing. Often folks are already a bit stressed or on edge during the hustle and business of the season. This dangerous situation can compound when other folks within earshot start jumping in on the conversation and adding commentary or opinionated interjections.

I recently read a book that had a major influence on my thinking, called “The 80/20 Principle”, by Richard Koch. I can’t stop talking about this book. The point I wanted to share for the purpose of this article is really not the focus of the book, so I won’t go into detail here about the overall concept of the 80/20 principle. I just like to give credit where it is due.

Avoid situations where you don’t shine, and particularly where you do the opposite. Avoid the snake-pits of your life. If you can’t stand traffic jams, don’t commute. If you don’t like waiting, minimize all contact with public services. If you get bad tempered with stupid people, don’t put yourself into contact with people you define this way. –Richard Koch

Now I certainly don’t want to suggest that your family members are stupid people or that you should avoid being with your family. However, there are some extreme examples I have heard of over the years where it would probably better to completely avoid certain people or situations due to predictable results such as an uncontrollable drunk who gets violent every year at parties. Don’t party with that dude, it’s not worth it.

The piece of wisdom that I have picked up is more appropriate for dealing with folks that you DO want to spend time with.

My wife and kids have reminded me many times in the last two years that it is extremely frustrating when I go off on a speech or try too hard to make a point that they really are not interested in. I have been accused of guiding a conversation in a particular direction, away from the initial subject, in order to try and make my point. I have recognized that this is indeed something that I do, often unconsciously.

I will not go deeply into the reasons I have such strong opinions that put me in a place of complete disagreement with most friends and family members because that is exactly the diversion that has caused so much trouble. Let it suffice to say that subjects such as voting, taxes, global warming, politics, and government are all snakepits for me.

After a recent unproductive fight with my wife, it really sunk in just how useless it is to try and make a point and “teach” someone something that I think I know. If a person wants to know my thoughts on a particular subject, they will ask out of curiosity. If I can do enough work or research to prove myself to be an authority on a particular subject, eventually some folks might come to me for advice.

For the sake of conversation and getting along with others, there is really no point in trying to make a point. Adults really do not change their minds easily. Most realizations and discovery comes from a personal journey involving seeking out information or learning on ones’ own initiative.

I have developed an inner alarm system of sorts that begins to sound whenever I approach a snakepit subject. Over the last weeks, I have noticed a vast improvement in my overall well-being. If you are intrigued or want to experiment with my strategy, I have broken down the steps to achieving a peaceful interaction with people you disagree with.

Step One: Define the Snakepits Ahead Of Time

Before meeting with the family, take a few moments to consider some of the issues you have with these individuals. For the most part, we already know where it is that we disagree with most people. What are the subjects that are guaranteed to be divisive? What good can come from getting into the arguments that will likely not be resolved over dinner and especially over drinks? I would recommend going as far as making a list on paper.

Step Two: Prepare Yourself Mentally to Lose

I find that the biggest enemy is really my own ego. I hate to lose. It feels like a loss when someone gets the last word in. It feels like I got beaten in an argument when something is said that defames my moral character and I don’t thoroughly defend myself and make a point to the counter. People that truly love me continue to do so because overall I treat them well and offer value in their lives over time. Whatever is said in one particular discussion or debate can easily be forgotten or dismissed. I have been learning to just let it go. I dont need to win this battle. The true battle is my inner struggle to stay on good terms with people and feel happy and confident. When I’m in a good place, all interactions are easier.

Step Three: Replace The Words With The Ear

There is really no winning except realizing that love is the big picture. The best way to show love and prove a point is to listen to someone else’s point and not say anything at all. Just hear them out and let them hear themselves. That actually opens the door to curiosity in some situations, where that person may then ask for your opinion. If so, they asked for it and that’s different. I still operate carefully if it is a snakepit subject. I don’t want to fall in the pit. I don’t like getting bit by snakes.

Real love is listening. Time is the best teacher. Give folks an opportunity to think for a few days on their own. I often think about something I said and realize a day or two later that I was off base. Patience cures many wounds.

So if you are rushing off to a family engagement, take a minute while stuck in traffic or while you are waiting for someone to get their shoes on and define a couple snakepits. Consider today as an opportunity to practice your listening skills. I know you will not regret it.

One more quick tip. If you find yourself getting emotional, red-faced, or starting to get over enthusiastic about something you want to say, take a break. You can always excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. The bathroom is a great place to recalibrate and get your thoughts in order. Consider the big picture and what really matters. Splash some water on your face and come back out ready to listen and love.

Just an idea. Hope your holiday is fantastic!!

 

Chris Jantzen

Richard Koch article, Huffington Post

 

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