Tips for Talking to Family During the Holidays

For many, the holiday season brings with it a sense of joy and peace, recollections of fond memories, and time spent with family and friends. As enjoyable as these experiences can be, sometimes spending time with those we are closest to can be challenging. These are the people who may know us the best and have seen us at our worst. Because of this, they may also be the ones who can perhaps unintentionally hurt us the most. How could these relationships change if we simply took time to understand where the other person was coming from? This is something that can be accomplished through the use of validation.

To validate someone is to take time to acknowledge that a person’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are capable of making sense. Essentially, I am searching for the other person’s ‘kernel of truth’ in their perspective or situation. I don’t have to understand it completely, like it, or even think it makes sense! I am simply trying to let the other person know I am taking the time to understand their experience. Now, this concept may seem a little foreign and out of character for most of us so let’s explore some tips on how to bring this about.

Ways we can validate others:

  1. Focus and pay attention – look interested, make eye contact, stay focused, respond with appropriate facial expressions
  2. Reflect back the facts – repeat what I hear or observe, refrain from judgmental language or tone, allow the other person to correct me
  3. Observe non-verbal communication – pay attention to facial expressions, body language, and body posture while I consider what I already know about the person I’m interacting with
  4. Understand the sense of what happened – try to think about how the other person felt or thought, consider the causes behind their statements, look for their sense of truth in what happened
  5. Acknowledge the truth – look for the truth in their statements and share what I found
  6. Show equality and value – don’t try to ‘one up’ or ‘one down’ them, affirm their right to their statements and my right to mine

When we take time to communicate to our friends, family members, coworkers, etc. that we are making an effort to understand where they are coming from, we open the door that allows more effective interpersonal relationships to grow. This holiday season, let’s pause and reflect on and be mindful of how our relationships might change if we took time to understand where the other person was coming from.


Emily MA, LPC