Experts in the Media

Lisanne Iriks – Body+Soul

Mediation and conflict expert

How to prevent conflict at family gatherings

Pass the wine, uncle Ron’s about to speak.

Families can be messy, especially when everyone gets together and lets their unsolicited opinions, unreserved comments, and not-so-subtle digs fly freely. If the thought of your next family gathering is filling you with dread, conflict and mediation expert Lisanne Iriks breaks down exactly how you should approach it. 

We’ve all been there… you’re having a great time at a family party, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere your sister-in-law drops a passive-aggressive comment that hurts your feelings and that you just can’t stop thinking about.

Not only does it ruin the party, it also changes your feelings for her and makes you feel on edge every time you see her from that moment on.

Cue family awkwardness and ongoing angst.

The truth is family gatherings can either be a breeze or rife with disagreements and personalities that don’t quite gel – and it’s different with every single family.

It’s important to remember that family interactions are not always smooth. Disagreements and conflict can arise, but that’s okay if you manage it well.

Resolving conflict is part of what you want to model to your children and keep engaging in. But how do you do that?

If you spend every family gathering feeling sick about seeing a certain relative, then this handy checklist could be for you.

#1. Set realistic expectations

Recognise that everyone has unique viewpoints and opinions, a lot of that is decided by their own experiences in life. Be open-minded and accepting of diverse perspectives and avoid imposing your own expectations or judgments on others.

#2. Active listening

Actively listen to family members during conversations, giving them your undivided attention. Practice empathy, understanding, and refrain from interrupting or dismissing their opinions.

Effective listening fosters mutual respect and also minimises misunderstandings, so put your phone and other distractions away when you spend time with your family so you can give them your full attention.

#3. Choose timing and words wisely

When discussing sensitive topics or addressing potential conflict, choose an appropriate time and place. Use respectful and constructive language, focusing on the issue rather than attacking the person. Be mindful of how you express yourself, as this can defuse tensions.

Don’t make the dinner table a war zone, sometimes dinner isn’t the best time to have a serious chat, so it’s okay to stop the conversation and pick it up later.

#4. Look for common ground

Family gatherings often involve differing viewpoints. Instead of engaging in constant confrontations because you don’t agree with someone, focus on finding common ground and areas of agreement. Encourage healthy discussions that promote understanding and try and find solutions that address everyone’s concerns.

#5. Practice forgiveness

Family relationships can be complex, and conflicts may arise. One of the best skills you can learn is to practice forgiveness and let go of past grievances. Cultivating an environment of forgiveness allows for healing, growth, and the preservation of family bonds. We’ve all done and said things we regret and we’ve all learnt from them if we’re allowed to.

#6. Set boundaries

Understand your own boundaries and also set boundaries with other family members. Try not to bring up grievances at family dinners or parties as they’re likely to explode. If you have an issue with someone, set aside another time to talk to them about it so you both have a chance to talk openly and privately with one another.

As you navigate family relationships it’s important to remember that no family is perfect. You can only ever do the best you can, keep an open mind and an open heart, apologise when you need to and hope others will do the same.

Lisanne Iriks is a conflict and mediation expert at Life Mediation. Find out more about her here.