[Originally posted in the November 2006 issue of my GrayfitiTM newsletter.]
Over the next several weeks, you might be going over the river and through the woods to that wonderful, home-cooked dinner at grandmother’s house. It will look like something directly from a Norman Rockwell painting or The Cosby Show, right?
If we are completely honest, we have to admit there is at least one person at these holiday gatherings that causes us some apprehension. I dread the questions about my single life, the characterizations and feelings of judgment or rejection that follow.
This year will be different because I’ve discovered my Third Ear!
I will remember the standard operating procedures:
- No assumptions
- No judgments
- No limitations
I will try them on. I will not assume my family members are intending me any harm. I will not counter their perceived judgments with my own. I will not limit myself to one correct or perfect outcome. If conflicts arise, I will confront and clarify before I react. I will apply my own techniques!
STEP ONE (ME): We apparently disagree about whether I should be married.
STEP TWO (FAMILY MEMBER): “What? No. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just meant you’re a ‘free spirit’.”
STEP ONE (ME), repeated: “Okay. So, we disagree that I am different from everyone else.”
STEP TWO (FAMILY MEMBER), repeated: “There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s cool that you do what you want when you want.”
STEP ONE (ME), reiterated: “We do disagree.”
STEP THREE (ME): “I would like you to understand that I am not different from anyone else. I don’t ‘do what I want when I want’ just because I’m single and have no kids. My law practice is my spouse, and my other projects are my babies. I have a home to take care of, and I contribute to the family’s needs. My family and commitments may look different from yours, but I still have them.”
STEP FOUR (FAMILY MEMBER): “I wasn’t saying you don’t have responsibilities. You just don’t understand what it’s like to have a husband and kids to take care of.”
STEP FIVE (FAMILY MEMBER): “I wish I had your freedom.”
STEP SIX (ME): “You’re right. I don’t know what it’s like to be married and have my own kids. It sounds like you need more time for yourself. I can keep an eye on the kids, and dinner is already under control. I would like to give you a little of what you want, and you’re right. I can today because I don’t have a husband or kids to take care of today, and my clients know I have taken the day off.”
(STEP SEVEN is skipped in this environment)
STEP EIGHT (FAMILY MEMBER): “Okay. They pretty much play on their own, but they would probably have fun with you.”
STEP NINE (ME), later: “They were so funny. Jane…Then, Sue…Thank you. That was fun. Did you get a chance to relax a little and enjoy your break?”
STEP NINE (FAMILY MEMBER, LAUGHING): “Yeah. It was so nice not to hear ‘Mommy, Mommy’ every 10 seconds. Can you move in?!”
STEP TEN: (We’ll plan to and will do this again at Christmas or Hanukkah. What isn’t working, we’ll revise. We’ll repeat the steps every time we have conflict, even if my family member doesn’t know that I’m applying my process.)
The above dialogue is intended only to give an example of the possibilities. It is not a script and should not be used as a basis for any expectations.
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a human resources supervisor and minor league sports agent. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).