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Christmas is a rather chaotic time when dealing with extended family members. Particularly if you haven’t seen them for much of the year, and they turn up on mass, and sadly make the festive day less than joyous.

Christmas can be stressful enough even before they arrive so how do you handle these defensive personalities and keep the day peaceful?

What is Defensiveness?
Defensiveness is an unconscious attempt to alleviate feelings of shame and insecurity brought on by a perceived “attack.” To protect themselves from these unpleasant emotions, people can, often unconsciously, employ tactics such as denying responsibility.

The expectations of bringing all the family together at Christmas for a magical day of family togetherness can lead to people feeling frustrated, angry, disappointed or embarrassed when their expectations are not met.

Here are some of the typical roles that family members can adopt, and strategies on how to reduce the risk of conflict.

The Overly Critical Family Member
Nothing is worse than planning and preparing the Christmas festivities for weeks only to have a family member criticise everything. Unfortunately criticism goes hand in hand with defensiveness and neither person feels understood.

If you are faced with some criticism than learn to manage your own emotions and acknowledge the other person. You don’t have to agree but it does mean learning to respond to their complaints with something like, “I can hear that you are very upset and think I …… but I didn’t know how much it bothered you (empathy).”

The side effect of a critical person is that they tend to drink a lot to hide their shame and cope with the situation so you are also dealing with the personality type of the drunk family member.

Drunk Family Member
What I know can happen is that when people drink too they can become rude and obnoxious, and say things they don’t mean or wish they hadn’t.

You have to be diplomatic when dealing with a drunk as bringing it to their attention could cause them to get irritable and lash out at you in embarrassment.  It’s best that you offer them some support like guiding them to a chair, giving them a glass of water or helping them into the garden for some fresh air (sometimes its even helpful if they fall asleep).

The Over Organiser/Doer
Usually women find themselves in this role and go all out during the holiday season, shopping for presents, food, cooking, cleaning, etc. Sometimes this can be a result of wanting to be in control, or to outdo or over cater on the day.

Try and help the Over Organiser/Doer into seeing if she steps back and allow others to share in the responsibility, it will still be a special day. When the Over Organiser/Doer is willing to ask for help, children and family are more than happy to chip in and help.

Dealing with Defensive people at Work?
It’s the same in any work environment. If you leave defensive behaviour in your team unchecked, it can increase tension by making others feel angry, frustrated and defensive themselves.

To deal with it, be tactful but don’t sidestep the problems. Let your team member know you understand and support her. When you check that your feedback is fair, focus on the desired outcome, and explain its benefits, individuals will be less likely to get defensive.

Don’t get drawn into “tit-for-tat” conflict or arguments. Stay focused on the issues, but bring a meeting to a close if you can see that nothing is likely to be achieved at that time.

Have a peaceful festive holiday.


976531_131866627008533_2074159554_o 2 (2)Fiona Craig is a psychotherapist, work-life balance coach, and business mentor, who loves helping her clients become better at juggling career and family. To learn about her transformational life coaching programs email or visit her website


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