Here are 7 ways to manage difficult people, including your in-laws. And manage them well so that you can enjoy your holidays, too!
1. Manage your expectations
(Oprah Winfrey calls this vital preparation strategy ‘give up hope’ – a tongue-in-cheek reminder to detach your emotions)
You know your in-laws.
If they are difficult people, know they won’t just magically change.
Remember the worst behavior from last year and lower your expectations from there.
2. Set your own boundaries
Vital for managing difficult people at all times.
Decide ahead of time what you are willing to tolerate and where the line is for you.
Then you don’t have to wait and take guidance from your own agitated emotions.
Also, decide how you want to handle it if those lines are crossed.
You can leave the conversation, leave the room, leave the house.
You can also just shut up and go to a better place in your own mind.
You can widen back and watch the situation unfold like it’s a movie you’re watching.
The decision is yours, and yours alone.
3. Discuss the situation with your partner
Your in-laws are, of course, your partner’s family and theirs are you family.
You each may see their shortcomings differently.
But whatever happens, you need to come to an agreement on how to manage the holiday events in their company.
Don’t let them drive a wedge between you.
You can help each other a lot by each handling your own family and defusing potential conflicts.
4. Structure the day(s)
Structured activities really help people get along better.
It’s the wide open spaces of many unstructured hours together that create so much potential for disagreements. Difficult people are often difficult because they are not at ease within themselves.
A lot of ‘free’ time can bring out those inner conflicts and the difficult people project those uncomfortable feelings onto others.
Make a detailed time and activity plan for the day or the days of your in-laws’ visit. It will give them something to do.
Don’t hesitate to enlist them for chores and assistance with practical preparations — a good way to manage difficult people is to give them clear tasks to do.
And it puts you where you need to be. In control.
5. Split them up!
Create activities and occasions where you get to spend time with the least offensive of your relatives. Group them according to compatibility.
Minimize the time you all have to spend together.
One good way to do that is to introduce exercise and outdoor activities, such as a walk to a park or the beach, a hike, a bicycle ride, or even horseshoes in the backyard. Exercise blows off steam, consumes holiday calories and reduces the time for alcohol consumption.
6. Give them a little of what they want
Plan your structure and keep control.
But, since these are the holidays, why not be generous and let them do a little bit of what they want?
Let them bring their favorite holiday foods, even if you personally don’t like to eat them.
Provide the entertainments they enjoy – sports, TV, games, carol singing.
It will put them in a good mood. They will realize you are being generous – even if they never acknowledge it in your presence.
But put a clear time boundary on it, for example by creating space for these activities before a set dinner time.
That way you combine two very effective ways of managing difficult people.
If you hit on a strategy that works, repeat it!
7. Remember that this holiday visit lasts only a short time
Remember this is your partner’s family.
Keep in mind that you and your partner are showing your love for each other by helping to manage the situation.
Remember that, unless guests cross the boundary into being abusive, difficult people usually have unhappiness in their lives. Even if it doesn’t look like it.
Give yourself the gift of looking forward to their departure and enjoying the peacefulness of your home again.
Having to manage difficult people may seem unfair. It adds another stressful task to your holiday season.
But having a strategy and implementing it with your partner is well worth it.
You don’t need to suffer unnecessarily. And you are in charge, even if that fact is invisible to your guests.
Don’t forget to schedule a wonderful, relaxing day (or several) afterward! Enjoy it with people who love you and who you don’t have to manage.
Enjoy getting together with your partner in a stress-free atmosphere.