Control and Influence – Can I Negotiate My Way Through Christmas?

Family dynamics at Christmas can be at their most tense as people who don’t usually spend that much time together, probably because they’re quite different to each other are brought together in one place. Add alcohol and bad weather into that mix (“I can’t even go out for a walk to get some time to myself!”) and the results can be bad atmospheres, strained smiles and time spent desperately willing the clock to move faster to a time when you can leave. Sometimes we can manage to adopt a relaxed approach and think ‘it’ll be what it will be’ but as the extended period of Christmas and the New Year runs through, our patience can be tested. By finding a balance of doing what you feel you ‘should’ do and focusing on great self care for you and your loved ones when you don’t have any social obligations to fill, you can negotiate your way through Christmas. The balance might just be the thing that gets you through. As you’re gritting your teeth over a glass of sherry you didn’t ask for, but is always served regardless you can focus on the long walk you’re planning the following day which ends with time with friends, the people who do choose to spend your time with.

Control and Influence
You can control your own behaviour but only influence other people’s and sometimes, frankly they’re not worth the energy! Being kind to yourself and the people you value and care about, and leaving the others to it puts you more in control of how you’re using your energy. By matching other people’s level of effort, or lack of it, you put yourself in a more assertive and effective position in your relationships. If you’re making loads of effort and it’s not being reciprocated, stop doing that because for some reason, and that’s the bit you might never find out, it’s not being valued. It might be once you stop making the effort though.

Personal relationships are a minefield of control and influence so by choosing when you make the effort you put yourself in control. We’re all very complex individuals and what might be totally unacceptable to you (bad manners for instance) might not worry another person in the slightest. You might find it odd but it is just different. By adopting a more relaxed approach you can manage your stress level more effectively and get through the day without having to battle for how you want things to be done. In your own home there’s probably more negotiation than control (depending on your family dynamics!) but the same rule applies; if your level of effort is not being matched try changing that and see what happens.

A Debrief Can Be Useful
If you’ve had a houseful of people, and some of them have not behaved in the way you would like them to, there is a value in talking about that after the event to acknowledge and process your frustrations. It doesn’t have to be a moaning session, just a constructive ‘I didn’t like how they…..’ and ‘by the way kids, that thing your Uncle did is not deemed to be acceptable behaviour in this house!’ ? By talking things through you influence your mood by processing and easing your frustrations ahead of your next social engagement. It can be very easy for frustrations and tensions to build up over Christmas, particularly across extended families so a constructive conversation can be helpful. Constructive though, not moany please. Although there’s nothing wrong with the statement ‘I will never understand why your Cousin……’ Tee hee! ?

What Kind of Problem Is It?
In the world of stress management we talk about three types of problem:

  • Problems you can resolve yourself
  • Problems you need some help to resolve
  • Problems you can do nothing about

Be very mindful about wasting energy on problems that you can do nothing about. They can raise your stress level, make you unhappy and frustrated, impact on your physical and mental health ultimately and make your daily life very difficult. Other people can be annoying – fact. Their preferences are different to yours, not wrong. If you fight and battle with things you can’t control you can make yourself unhappy and unwell.

What Can I Influence?
If someone is very set on how things will be, it can be very hard to influence any change to that. Christmas is a season of people imposing their will on others, under the guise of Christmas traditions. “We always have a sherry when you arrive”. “Could we not go wild and have cheeky cocktails instead?!” you want to cry ☹ But no, this is how we always do things and that is deemed to be special, even though most of you find it quite annoying <<sigh>> This is how people exercise their control, and sometimes they do that because they don’t have much control over anything else. Just something to think about.

Nagging is a form of influence but it’s not generally a very effective one. So, the next time you’re feeling your frustration level rise, it’s worth thinking to yourself ‘am I wasting energy trying to get my own way? Can I influence people to comply with my preferences or will they do what they want to do anyway?’. Based on those thoughts you can then decide on your actions. Which might be to go with the flow, pitch in, help out and get through the day fairly constructively or you might decide to help build the latest Lego set with the children. Having too much egg nog and behaving badly isn’t going to work well for anyone and it certainly isn’t going to help you constructively influence anything. And you’ll only feel better in the short term – you know I’m right about that! It probably will mean that you’re the first item on everyone’s subsequent debrief list though!

Social dynamics, particularly around times like Christmas are very complex but by focusing on what you can control and influence, and what you don’t stand a chance of changing, the festive spirit might stay with you for longer. Until Boxing Day at least! ?

Take good care please, have a great time at the Christmas do and have a great day.


Best wishes, Karen