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Surviving Christmas With Brian Colbert!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Our 'Positive Thinking' strand with mind coach, Brian Colbert aims to give our viewers at home a healthier outlook on a range of common topics. Today, Brian, will look at our sixth  theme, "Surviving Christmas".

Surviving Christmas (with the in-laws, friends, kids etc.)

There's nothing like a good get together at Christmas , family, friends in-laws and outlaws all together under one roof drinking, eating ,chatting , sharing stories swapping presents and having a great time!

Well at least that's how its starts out or that's how it is intended to be , but as we all know it doesn't always end up that way . Often times we find ourselves in sensitive  situations with difficult people as tensions runs high and patience runs out while  festering resentment boils over and arguments unfold in front of our very eyes.

This is because with any social group that has existed over an extended  period of time it is bound to have its rules , it's  'cliques' and it's  'scapegoats' .Differences of opinion are bound to exist and where differences exists so too does tension.

Every group has a number of  ways of releasing the build up of tension and that is typically by forming 'subgroups' or 'cliques'. Members in these subgroups often appoint themselves as moral supervisors/guardians  of the wider group and react to non conformity by a series of means.

The choice of reaction will depend on the strength of individual members of the group. 

The basic idea is to get everybody to 'fit in' .

Initially this may be done subtly or overtly through welcoming outsiders/newcomers in with good humoured  persuasion and  inclusion and the gradual assignment of   roles and responsibilities.

All is well until there is a breach in conformity then the demons show up and attempt to restore order and control.

This can be done through high or low level  aggression and is manifested through acts of bullying, complaining, critisizing, spreading guilt , undermining and even ostracizing the offenders until such time that they either fit back in or are excluded or worse  kicked out.

This process can be hell and this process often rares its head at Christmas time as  most members of the group get together at that time.

So if you find yourself in this situation this Christmas and don't want to end up as the scapegoat for group tension perhaps what you need are a few 'coping' strategies to help you survive!
1. Anticipate potential pitfalls

Most of us have been there , you know what is most likely to happen and who is most likely to cause it to happen, so prepare in advance to avoid it or cope  with it. It is no use relying on blind faith to take you through you need to have a plan for each eventuallity. Work out what could go wrong and work out how you will cope with it without making matters worse.  If there is likely to be an encounter that could produce tension, say for example a family member holding a grudge or one that you don't particularly get on with, make sure that you visit them early in the day , there is less likely to be much alcohol consumed which is the thing most likely to get you into difficulty. Once you have your plan in mind visualise it going well as often as you can.

2. Set Time Limits

Set time limits to your visits and stick to them no matter how well things appear to be going. You know what your tolerance levels are , you know how long it takes before your patience runs out  (and that differs depending on the amount of alcohol consumed) .So set it up in advance, have something or someone that you have genuinely got to visit or something you genuinely have to do after a set time and politely  excuse yourself  ,express your thanks and leave . Make it so that you leave on a good note not a strained one!   

3. Focus on the present.

Avoid  running over bad past experiences and focus soley and totally on the brief period that you will be in a particular situation for. If someone brings up a past issue whether alcohol, induced or not use a 'Pattern Interrupt' to redirect attention and take control by bring the focus back to the present again( I will demo a Pattern Interrupt)

4. Focus on 'coping'  not 'resolving' 

Do not assume that because you are in festive mood that others are too and do not attempt to fix any longstanding family feuds now is not the time. Keep your focus on 'coping', so you are always working to get through it rather than getting over it. Your target is to have a pleasant Christmas to focus on the things that are going well and that are worth enjoying and to settle with coping with the things that are challenging.
If you have to meet someone and you know it is going to be a huge challenge try and do so on neutral ground so that if tensions do erupt at least you can walk away.

In the meantime here is some help

Techniques for Dealing with Difficult Adults
(in the short-term)

First it is useful to understand why people engage in difficult behaviours and the reason is simple. . . it works for them!

The reasons behind our Inflexibilities.

As we move from childhood into our teenage and later adulthood years we tend to take on strict roles or make concrete decisions about how we will deal with people and life in general. We are not always consciously aware of these coping life strategies  ,but nontheless they guide our behaviours and make up our personalities and determine our success or the lack thereof in life.

These strategies or decisions are a natural part of the growing-up process and are reflected in the following manner.

1. We like to be liked. . . and because of this we engage in behaviours that are intended to achieve this objective so much so that the behaviour becomes habit. Later we even engage in it when we know it is not working! And then wonder why we feel so upset because it fails to work all of the time.

2. We enjoy our polarity of response. . .at the age of two and later again in the teenage years we begin to explore and experiment with the idea of not doing what our friends and family would like us to do, or deliberately doing the opposite of what is expected of us. Again this behaviour can become habitual and we continue to limit ourselves by it even after we have forgotten the use behind it in the fist place!

3. We think we are our behaviours. . . the incorrect assumption that we are what we do can have disastrous consequences on our self-esteem and our general level of emotional health let alone our efficiency in achieving our objectives. If this was true then if we did something stupid which we all have done at some time or other then we would be stupid. Conversely if we did something intelligent then we would be intelligent and as such we would be both intelligent and stupid at the one time! In short we are not our behaviours but we are responsible for our behaviours and as such we owe it to ourselves to engage in those behaviours that will best serve us in the achievement of our positive outcomes.


In order to best enjoy Christmas  we must become flexible. Being flexible means coming up with fresh responses to each challenge as it presents itself over the Christmas period. Being flexible does not mean sacrificing your overall well being. Being flexible means being prepared to make alterations or changes in your words, your thinking your reactions and your behaviours  if only for this short period of time to ensure that Christmas is a rewarding enriching and enjoyable experience. for you , for your friends and your family. Being flexible makes sense!

So then on to. . .
Dealing with Difficult People
Before I identify the 9 basic 'Difficult Types' lets  acknowledge first that we are all difficult at some time or other. However what makes certain people so difficult to deal with is that they use their difficult behaviour patterns in a habitual way. In short they appear stuck or rigid in their behaviour.

1. Hermann The Sherman Tank

Hermann The Sherman bullies and bombards to get his/her way. Hermann The Sherman  often uses his  physical stature or social standing to intimidate. When you question why should you have to do such and such and thing /He is likely to  give you an answer "because I am your father that's why!"  Hermann The Sherman shouts screams points his finger at you ; he bangs his fists on the table, lashes out with detailed personal insults, and constantly interrupts you while you talk or attempt to respond. Hermann bases his decisions on the here and now the facts as they present themselves in the current moment. Hermann does not see the bigger picture he is  generally sharp quick-witted and capable of rolling over your self-esteem in an instant. Hermann has no hesitation in leaving you feeling hurt, intimidated and totally inadequate.

Coping strategies

Do not get into a catfight Hermann will win and in the process may leave his imprint on your face either literally or figuratively. Hermann can be violent so approach with caution. Hermann The Sherman does not surrender he fights to the death .Hermann has an inflated ego  and once Hermann makes a statement  he will go to hell and back and drag you with him in order to prove he is right.

Do stand up to him.
Look him in the eye.
Call him by name.
When he interrupts you, look him in the eye; tell him that him he has interrupted you.
Keep your tone non accusatory ,
Use statements like. . . I disagree with you but tell me more. . . or in my opinion. . .

Once he has interrupted you a few times which he will and you have stood up to him in an adult way, a change will occur and he will look at you as if he has seen you for the fist time. . . which he probably will have and he will listen.

Once you have got a Hermanns respect he may actually want to be his buddy.

2. Sarcastic Sue

Sarcastic sue is like a sniper in the jungle .She is both the king and queen of sarcasm. Not very confident and with low self esteem she needs the cover of the family group in order to attack you but her goal is no different to Hermanns she want you to feel inadequate. Sue is almost always an 'expert' in her chosen field. She could be the best mum or the best party thrower the best friend etc in the world. She believes in her own superiority in this field but only in this. The reason Sue operates under cover is because she feel powerless to do otherwise. Sue establishes her position in the group  by using sarcasm and getting a laugh at your expense. She depends on your reaction to her snipes and focus' her behaviour on the premise that you will attempt to ignore her as if nothing is wrong or that you are not embarrassed by her .If you challenge her openly she will generally accuse of being too sensitive or say something like.awe poor thing can you not take a joke? Did I hurt your little feelings ? ah I think she is gonna cry!  If you do not deal with Sue each and every time she snipes she  will hack away at you and take away your power and possibly reduce the level of respect that the family may have for you . Quiet simply the  family may end up not taking anything you say seriously if you fail to deal effectively with her  relentless attacks.

Coping Strategies

Smoke her out.
Get her out on her own.
Pull her aside and say something like, .those jokes you made sure got a laugh and were funny but did I sense a dig in what you were saying and what I want to know is did you mean it that way? At this point the Sue may come out with the 'you are too sensitive bit'. When she does ask the same question.that was funny too but did I sense a dig in what you just said there as well? That ought to shut her up for a while.

It is always effective to hit the nail on the head as soon as it starts if that means in the group by all means do that too! If you have to you can use silence to redirect attention to her. So when she snipes stay really quiet but keep looking at her when the group are looking at you and when she snipes again keep the  non expressive look going and let the silence build give it a few seconds and then put a big smile on your face and say are you done yet? 

3. Basil Fawlty

Basil has a very short fuse he is likely to explode at anytime when things are not going his way .He is all quiet and peaceful one minute someone says something like" Basil are you making the tea?" and then he suddenly erupts into an uncontrolled rage. "Am I making the tea? Am I making the tea? Why is always me that has to make the tea?  Why do I have to do everything around here ? Has everyone lost the use of their legs or something? . Basil engages in what can only be described as an adult version of childhood tantrum. His behaviour is drawn from his youth and for all intents and purposes as he runs around spluttering and verbalising and generally looking out of control. Once you witness it you realise it to be true .he is at that point out of control. He is responding to feelings frustration and of being threatened.

Coping Strategies

Do nothing at first apart from maintaining eye contact.
Let his rage subside and once you do you may notice his eyes falling to the floor as he becomes upset. He may at this stage begin to cry.

Then say to him something along the lines of. Look this is really important and I want to hear everything that you say. But not this way.

By taking them seriously you are in fact dealing with the threat.
Try to get some privacy.
Next gather the facts
Then Offer immediate help and work out a plan of action.

4. Dilly Dally Annie

Dilly Dally Annie is so indecisive she can't make up her mind when you want her to do something. She appears to plod along and wander from place to place aimlessly. The reason is that she won't do anything because she likes to be liked and does not want to run the risk of offending ANYBODY! As a result she lives in the hope that someone else will look after everything so she won't have to. If you make a suggestion to Dilly Dally Annie  to go out and eat she is likely to say "I don't mind. What do you think ?Where do you want to go to? Does everyone want to go there too? I am easy I will go wherever. Things get complicated if there are two Dilly's in the group because now no one gets to go anywhere because they are all busy trying not to make the decision!

Coping Strategies

Find out the reason that she is not making the decision.
What specifically makes her hesitate?
Help them to solve her dilemma.
Make a personal statement of support.
Watch for non-verbal signs, and be careful not to pressure her.
Finally once you get her to make a decision, tell her that you believe that the decision she made was the best one for all concerned.

5. Moany Michael

Moany Michael just loves to complain and is easily recognisable through that whining tone that he uses whenever he talks . He never hesitates to let you know what should be done but is not always as quick to offer a helping hand . Things like chance, the stars, fate and many undefinables govern his life. He is the one that wants you to solve his problems; in fact he very often believes that you should! Unfortunately when he moans or he does so  with great accuracy and often to the point of pain at times. He has a sharp eye for noticing what is wrong, and he strikes out with the greatest of accuracy. He is the one that will come in your house and say '' I see you got new decking. Oh it's not treated is it?. Why did you put it there does the sun not come up in the far side of the garden? I wouldn't have put it there sure where is your privacy? Did you buy that wood treatment that's useless that doesn't work why didn't you get the 5 year one?

Coping Strategies

Never agree with them. . . simply just paraphrase back what they have said to you.

Do not apologise to them for what you have failed to do. This will only give them the opportunity to provide you more stuff.. (.. And another thing you bought the wrong brush  for it too!)
Get them into problem solving mode
Ask them questions. . .

Ask him for their help. . . get him to explain his problem with what you done and how he is going to fix it for you.
Put a time limit on them.
Listen I am out of here in five minutes what would you have liked to have done by that time.

6. Mood Hoover Melanie

Mood Hoover Melanie is a negativist, She can only see the downside of everything.. She is not a 'happy camper '; Melanie suffers from feelings of powerlessness, but also feels that anyone that is in charge or left in charge should not be trusted. She comes out with phrases like..' expect the worst and you won't be disappointed'. If you challenge her , she claims that she are not being pessimistic she is simply being realistic. Melanie's mission in life is appears to be to  make everybody be as a negative as she is !If something goes wrong she is likely to say ''What would you expect?'' If you are having your child minded and she falls and hurts herself she will be the first one to say ''I never trusted that babysitter anyway.''

Coping Strategy

Save yourself and remain positive no matter what she puts in front of you!
Never argue.never nod in the affirmative while she is preaching her brand of doom and gloom.
Say something like 'you are probably right but.'
Get ready to motor on by yourself
Don't be surprised if you even get offer help by the very same Melanie!

7. Charlie Clam

Charlie is the party pooper he sits there silent and unresponsive. Charlie's problem is that he uses silence to mask an emotional state, which can range anywhere from being confused, to being hostile, and from wanting to sabotage your get together to simply being unaware of what is going on in the world! Ask Charlie a question and you are lucky if you get a head nod a grunt or a shrug of the shoulders. Charlies conversations are one way you ask the questions and he avoids the answers!

Coping Strategy

Rather than being flummoxed by Charlies lack of response you must be the assertive one!
Start the conversation yourself.
Pause and end each statement with a question.. such as 'What do you think of that Charlie? What would you do in that situation Charlie? What's happening, what are you thinking?    Enter in to the silence .wait and wait for a response. Next lean forward with an air of expectancy written on your face and comment, put your hand on his forearm or shoulder if that is acceptable and say .you are not talking to me what is happening Charlie ?
Again enter the silence while still demonstrating with your body language that you are expecting a response.
If this fails to get a response, you need to tell Charlie that you are reading his lack of response as a snub and a message for you to leave him alone .Tell him how that makes you feel and then  leave him alone!
Tell him that you will be happy to talk to him whenever he decides he is ready.

8. Emma the Expert

Emma is an expert she knows it all, she is full of. . . facts and figures. She believes that she has got to the truth of the matter and if you disagree with her that you are insulting her. This is the way it is and there is no room for disagreement!

Coping Strategy

Listen, provide verbal feedback by paraphrasing what she has said to you. . . if you don't she will think you did not understand her because you are stupid!
If you disagree with her you will have to use questions to get her attention other wise she will not hear you because you are the dumb one!

The two basic types of questions to be used are
. The 'baby blue eyes' question. Think of Marilyn Monroe flicker your eyelids and say. I don't understand could you explain that to me one more time. as he/she is doing that get ready to launch in with question number two.

. The extensional question. So what you are saying is.. and that means (this is where you slip in your own thinking in the form of an extensional question that teases out her thinking into the future in a safe way in an attempt to demonstrate the flaw in her thinking in the first place!) Once she sees they flaw, she will have pointed it out to herself and so therefore it is less likely to cause you a problem.

9. Love-me Larry

Loveme Larry is such a superagreable chap Loveme agrees to everything and with everyone one promises you the sun moon and stars but does'nt ever deliver. Then when you do something for him theres is no chance of finding out what he truly thinks because he will always say its great . Basically he wants everyone to like him all of the time. He is afraid to be honest with you for fear that he might lose your  friendship or approval .

Coping Strategies

You have got to help him to be honest and give feedback.To say what he really thinks and do what he really wants. When you know that he has a problem with something, tease it out by saying something to the effect that I know you are happy with the job that I have done for you on the garden in general, but perhaps there is some minor area that could do with the slightest bit of improvement after all nobody is perfect and we all need a little help at sometime or other. This should do it and now once they squeeze out a strained. well maybe the such and such could be a tiny bit better. That is where they have their biggest problem and you must fix it immediately. Once you have done that thank them for their enormous help it may actually encourage them to be more honest in the future!
These people need plenty of encouragement so be lavish with your praise.

Techniques for Dealing with Difficult Children
(in the short-term)

 The Angry Child  (Pushing/biting/grabbing/Shouting/kicking etc)

. Talk and use reason
. Elicit Compassion
. Suggest Alternatives
. Highlight good behaviour
. Do not engage/get angry back
. Use a Kind Attentive Firm Tone of voice

The Explosive Child

. Create safety /Provide Help
. Talk
. Help prepare for next time things don't work out
. Pre-empt a reoccurrence if possible
. Distract
. Use humour..tickle.
. Create empathy and rapport.

The Defiant Child (this is the child that needs to be in control)

. Give them control
. Make them the boss(School of Rock)
. Give them games to play where they are in charge
. Encourage awareness of others(What type of boss do you want to be? )
. Praise the child when he allows others to have their say on things.

Non-Compliant Child

. Get his attention first
. Use touch to convey what you mean.

Disruptive /Noisy /Hyperactive Child

. Understand reason for behaviour.
. Reduce amount of stimulation
. Give breaks
. Provide opportunity to work of energy
. Help Child regain control( paying attention, hugging , reassuring etc)