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Family Gatherings
Five Tips for Enjoyable Family Gatherings
By Neill Gibson and Beth Banning
Are you wondering how your next family gathering will turn out? Is it tough to relate to some of your family members? Do you sometimes leave feeling drained and wondering why you went at all? It can be different this year. Imagine walking into your next family get-together feeling excited about being there and knowing that you will leave feeling happy about the whole experience.
Keep reading this article >>
Marshall Rosenberg
Be Careful What You Hear During the Holidays
By Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.
The holidays can be one of the most stressful times of year. Family gatherings, busy schedules, entertaining, and the bustle and pressure of expectations around gift giving. In this training excerpt, world-renowned peacemaker and author, Marshall Rosenberg, gives frank advice to keep our compassion in check by shifting our thinking. Keep reading this article >>  

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"Never hear what people think of you. Instead,
hear what they are
feeling and needing at
the moment they’re expressing those

Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.

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You'll Never Forget

World-renowned author, peacemaker, and conflict resolution expert, Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. talks about the keys to prevent all forms of conflict and violence in this 10-minute video.


Enjoyable Family Gatherings, continued

It's your choice. Here are five tips for making your next family gathering the experience you've always wanted.

Tip 1: Decide What You Want to Experience
We call this creating an intention. If you aren't very clear about what you do want to experience, then it will be difficult to make that happen. And it may be hard for you to even notice it when it is happening. How do you get clear about your intention? Ask yourself these questions:

"What qualities would I like to experience?"

You might choose fun, caring and harmony. Or peacefulness: "If my experience today could only be peaceful I would walk out happy and wanting to return next time." Take some time to imagine all the qualities that would make your next family gathering a wonderful experience for you.

"How could my family and I benefit from this?"

Perhaps your family:

  • Could experience a greater sense of connection
  • Might look forward to seeing each other again
  • Would be more playful with one another
  • Or ... ?

The time you spend identifying these benefits will help you remember your intention if things get challenging at the gathering.

Tip 2: Know That People are Doing the Best They Can
You might ask, "When Aunt Sue complains about everything under the sun, is she doing the best she can? When Dad criticizes me about every part of my life, is he doing the best he can?"

Yes. They're doing the best they can.

Stop and think about it. Do they look like they are having fun? Are they being effective at getting what they really want? If they knew a way to take care of themselves that they enjoyed more and that worked better, don't you think they would do it? So if you get upset seeing people act the way they do, remind yourself: They're doing the best they can. Then get back to creating what you want to experience as fast as you can.

Tip 3: Don't Take Things Personally
"Don't take it personally if someone tells me that what I'm doing is stupid?"

You can do this if you start with this understanding: Everything people do or say starts with a desire to support something they value. And what would that be? Guess.

Your father says to you, "How can you possibly think starting your own business is a smart thing to do?" He might value security, or predictability. He might be worried about how you'll continue to pay your bills. Believe it or not, this might be his attempt to contribute to you. And, he is doing the best he can.

So the next time you hear something you don't enjoy, the next time you want to defend yourself and justify your position, STOP and remember: It's about them. Don't take it personally.

Instead, try to be curious. "Wow, I wonder what's going on with them?" Imagine yourself in the other person's shoes: "If I said or did that, what might be going on with me?" See if you can guess.

Tip 4: Clarify Your Understanding About What Others Want
One big cause of upset between people is not being sure about what they want from each other.

Have you ever heard people express concerns or complaints like: "I just don't know how I'm going to pay my rent this month"? Or "I hate it when we start eating without giving thanks first." Or maybe a family member starts talking to you about how your favorite cousin is making a mess of her life.

What happens then? Do you feel confused or uncomfortable? Do you want to justify yourself, explain the situation, or give advice?

Whenever you feel uncomfortable hearing people's concerns or complaints, we believe this is partly caused by your not understanding what they want from you.

We suggest you start asking for clarity. Say or guess out loud what you think the other person might want from you.

Before you start, remember tips 1, 2, and 3.

  1. Get present to the intention you created for the gathering.
  2. Remember people are doing the best they can.
  3. Don't take things personally.

Suppose cousin Jim says, "I just don't know how I'm going to pay my rent this month." What does he want? Ask him, "Do you want to brainstorm some ideas about how you might get your rent this month?"

Or when your grandmother says, "I hate it when we start eating without giving thanks first." What does she want? Ask her, "Would you like to see if somebody is willing to give thanks before we eat this year?

If your guesses aren't accurate, they'll let you know by saying something that gets closer to what they do want. Your guess will open the way for a conversation that can lead to more understanding and less stress for both of you.

Tip 5: Develop Your Ability to Be Grateful
What you focus your attention on grows.

If you constantly notice things that cause you pain, then you will continue to suffer. "How inconsiderate he is." "She doesn't care about me." "He's the most selfish person I've ever known."

Try focusing your attention on what you enjoy.

It may sound simple. But ask yourself, "What would it be like if I spent my day simply noticing everything that I enjoy about being with my family?"

Imagine looking for all the things that you do enjoy, and being thankful for them. "It smells so good in here; I can't wait to eat." "I'm so grateful that everyone cares enough to spend time together." "It's nice that my mom enjoys having these gatherings at her house."

How would you feel if you focused your attention on these things?

So, decide what you really do want to experience, know that people are doing the best they can, don't take things personally, clarify your understanding about what others want, and focus on what you enjoy -- Do this and experience the fastest, easiest way to enjoy any family gathering.

If you're ready to improve all your relationships, sign up for our thought-provoking and motivational Weekly Action Tips eMail series. Each tip offers unique self-help skills and personal growth techniques that help you stay focused on what's most important to you. Sign up today!

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Remember, the shortest path to a happy life is found through conscious choice.

Neill Gibson is co-author of the PuddleDancer Press booklet What's Making You Angry? He and Beth Banning are the founders of Focused Attention, Inc. They would love to help you learn new communication, relationship, and personal growth skills that will support you in having more fun in your life, and inspire a more conscious, loving and peaceful world.

Keep learning these vital communication skills with these books and training resources:


Family Gatherings





Be Careful What You Hear, continued

If you want to enjoy your life, particularly during high stress situations, I would strongly recommend you never hear what another person thinks.

I think you will enjoy life better and you will enjoy other people much better by following this rule. Especially never hear what they think of you. Especially that.

But if you really insist on making life miserable for yourself do this: think of what you are. Think, for example, whether you’re normal or abnormal. Appropriate or inappropriate. Attractive or ugly. Intelligent or stupid.

Every second that you spend thinking of yourself, what you are, I predict you won’t be enjoying life very much. So, if you really want to be miserable spend moments of your life thinking of what you are.

But if you’re really masochistic and want to go even further, think of what other people are. When family members or friends are talking, think in your mind, "wow, they've got a big mouth." When someone makes a comment, say to yourself, "that was inappropriate," or "they are really unkind," or even "they are much nicer than anyone else in my family."

And then, the most wonderful way to make life miserable for yourself is to think of what other people think of you. Listen carefully to every comment about your work, your kids, your outfit, your home, even the good you've prepared at the next family gathering. This is sure to make life miserable for yourself.

But do you really want to be miserable? Why go some place ugly when the truth -- behind all of those judgments and evaluations -- is beautiful? Why hear what a person thinks of you when the truth of what's alive in them behind it is a message you can truly enjoy?

So, never hear what people think of you. Instead, hear what they are feeling and needing at the moment they’re expressing those thoughts. It’ll be better for you, and the other person. That's because by hearing their feelings and needs you'll find joy contributing to their well-being. And, you'll of course feel far less stress by not spending moments of your life caught up in what people think of you.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Anger is a wake up call. It tells me that I’m thinking in a way almost guaranteed not to get my needs met.

Why? Because my energy is not connected to my needs. I’m not even aware of what my needs are when I’m angry. What’s going on in my head is a big judgment about the other person. So, whatever I say is likely to mobilize defensiveness and counter attack.

But, when I stop, become conscious of the judgment and then look beneath the judgment, I can ask myself, "what am I needing that I’m not getting?" Then, there will be a transformation of feelings.

As soon as I get in touch with the need I’m no longer angry. I’m sad, frustrated, irritated, discouraged and I have a need now that I want to get met. When I’m angry I want to blame and punish.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Conflicts, even of long standing duration, can be resolved if we can just keep the flow of communication going, in which people come out of their heads and stop criticizing and analyzing each other, and instead get in touch with their needs, and hear the needs of others. We then can recognize the interdependence we all have in relation to each other. We can't win at somebody else's expense. We can only fully be satisfied when the other person's needs are fulfilled as well as our own.

Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. is the author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Speak Peace in a World of Conflict, Life-Enriching Education, and several booklets. He serves as the founder and director of educational services for the Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Keep learning these vital communication skills with these books and training resources:


Marshall Rosenberg


"Never hear what people think of you. Instead,
hear what they are
feeling and needing at
the moment they’re expressing those

- Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.