|Snow by Jennifer C., cc license|
My favorite holiday movie, hands down, is White Christmas. I love the songs, the dancing, and I sob at the end of the movie every time when (spoiler alert) it begins snowing. True story. I love it all in spite of the fact that the source of romantic conflict comes entirely from, one of my pet peeves, a misunderstanding that could easily be cleared up in less than five minutes. In this case, an innkeeper eaves drops on part of a phone call made by Bob (Bing Crosby) and repeats the misinformation to Betty (Rosemary Clooney). Betty becomes upset with Bob and, thereafter, perceives everything he says in the worst possible light. Instead of having a straightforward conversation about it, she decides to leave town. It seems utterly ridiculous.
Or maybe not? It may be that this story line is more realistic than it seems at first glance. These kinds of misunderstandings happen all the time, leading us to spend way too much energy on perceived wrongs. It could be that we don't know the whole story or we assign the wrong intention to something we see or hear. Until humans evolve to read minds, we're doomed to take part in this eternal guessing game, which involves lots of wrong guesses.
Or, again, maybe not? I did some conversation coaching this past year, helping folks approach a challenging conversation they wanted to have with someone. When I touched base with these people after they had had the challenging conversation, a pattern emerged. Often, a quick interaction cleared up a huge misperception that had been causing massive strife.
The holidays seem like a pertinent time to talk about this sort of thing. As we gather with friends, family, and other loved ones we don't see all year, old and new hurts can bubble up. Being together, though, there may also be the opportunity to have that short interaction which could offer new perspective and understanding. Here are some ideas on how to approach it:
- Start with love. If you didn't care at all about the person who upset you, you would probably just end the relationship. Be sure to communicate that care: "I'm bringing this up because I care about you and I value our relationship."
- Describe the issue from your perspective without assigning intention to the other person's words or actions: "When you (came to town last month but didn't make time to see me), I felt (hurt). "
- Listen. Be ready to hear the other person's perspective and feelings. Be honest with yourself here; if you're not ready to hear it, you may need to wait a bit to have this conversation.
Just talking is by no means a cure-all, and some interactions are going to be longer than others, but if you've been nursing some emotional wounds, this kind of conversation may be the best gift you could give yourself this year. Outside of comedic holiday musicals, life's too short and precious to live with the hurt that comes from misunderstandings that could be cleared up with a quick, straightforward conversation.
I wish you honest and gentle holidays!