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How to Deal with a Demanding Host at Family Events
Family events are supposed to be fun and relaxing gatherings, but sometimes, the hosts can ask a bit too much of their guests. If you have a family member who is an overbearing host, you may not be certain how to handle their behavior without disrupting the entire event. It is possible to prevent conflict by being as clear as possible with your expectations and willingness to help. When speaking to the host, you can reduce the chance of conflict by using positive communication techniques. If it does seem like a fight is brewing, cool the situation down by handling it in a calm manner.
Defusing the Tension
State your expectations up front.Let your host know what you can and cannot do for the upcoming event. If there is anything you are looking forward to, make sure that they know. Being as clear as possible early on may encourage the host to let you enjoy yourself during the event.
- For example, if you are worried that you will be asked to watch the children, you might say, “I am really looking forward to seeing everyone. I haven’t seen my uncles in forever, and I’m hoping that I can sit next to them at dinner.”
- If you know that the host will be expecting something from you that you cannot provide, let them know as early as possible, especially if it is a task that they have asked you to do before. You might say, “I've had back problems recently. I know you usually want me to help set up the tables at the picnic, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to help this year.”
- If you are uncertain or do not want to commit, tell your host, “Let me get back to you on that.”
Ask ahead of time for your duties.If you are going to an event where you will be expected to contribute something, make sure you know ahead of time what it will be. Contact the host. Ask them if there is anything you can do or bring to help reduce stress.
- For example, you might call the host a week or two beforehand and say, “I’m looking forward to the party. Is there anything I can bring to help out?”
- Be very clear about what type of help you are willing to lend. For example, you can say, “I’m not sure I’ll have time to cook anything. Do you want me to bring plates or drinks instead?”
- Tell your host exactly when you plan to arrive so that you can contribute something useful. You can say, "I won't be able to come until 8:00, so I do not think I will be able to help with the prep this year." If your availability changes, tell the host as soon as possible.
Go with the flow.It is sometimes best to keep the peace at family gatherings to prevent larger conflict. When it comes to a demanding, controlling, or overbearing host, you should pick your battles. Try to compromise on some issues and let others slide.
- For example, if your host expects you to help out with cleaning up, you might decide to do it so that you do not have an argument. But if your host is nagging you about certain lifestyle choices of yours, you might decide to confront them about it.
- When deciding if you should talk to the host, ask yourself what you are planning to get out of it. Do you expect the host to relent? Is there a risk this might cause a larger family conflict? Or is there a way that you can ask the host to respect your personal boundaries?
- While it may be frustrating to deal with a demanding host, if the only thing at stake is your pride, it may be better just to be quiet. Take a break by going outside or by volunteering for an errand.
Use humor to reduce stress.Sometimes, tensions can run high at family events. Your host might be stressed out because of their responsibilities or because of other things going on in their life. Humor can relax the situation. If you feel as though you are on the verge of conflict, try cracking a joke to lighten the mood.
- Self-deprecating humor is the best way to crack a joke without offending anyone. This is humor where you poke fun at yourself.For example, if the host is bothering you about being single, you can say, “Oh, I’ve been dating myself for a while, and I have to say, I think I’m the one.”
Appreciate the host.Throwing a family event, especially during the holidays, can be stressful on the host. Use small gestures to thank the host. This might boost their mood and improve their behavior towards you.
- Compliment the host on how well they did setting up the party. For example, you can say, "These decorations are amazing! You did a fantastic job."
- You may want to bring a small gift for the host. This could be a candle, a bottle of wine, a flower centerpiece, or even a friendly card.
- After the event, write the host a thank you note. This may encourage them to continue treating you nicely at events.
Maintain your distance.If your family member’s demands are interfering with your mental health or are causing undue stress, you may want to consider keeping space between you and them during the event.
- If it is a large event, such as a holiday party or reunion, you might be able to seat yourself next to different family members. You might decide to not volunteer for any duties. While you should not ignore the host, avoid touchy topics and situations.
- If it is a small event, such as a family dinner, you may not be able to avoid them entirely. Let your host know at the beginning when you have to leave. This can help you set a firm boundary for how long you will see the problematic host. For example, you might say, "We would love to stay, but we are paying a baby sitter tonight, so we have to be back by ten."
- If you're allowed to bring a guest, it can help put space between you and the host. The host may be on their best behavior in front of the guest, and you may be able to escape the host's demands since you are entertaining someone else.
Communicating in a Peaceful Manner
Use “I” statements.When speaking to the host or other family members, it is important to avoid using accusatory language or blaming others. While you might be stressed, upset, or annoyed by the host’s demands, you can prevent further conflict by using statements that begin with “I” instead of “you.”
- For example, instead of saying, “You keep asking me too to do way too much. Why can’t you ask someone else?” you can say, “I have my hands full at the moment. Perhaps I can see if someone else can help you?”
- You can use “I” statements to declare your feelings and your thoughts. For example, “I feel as though I’m taken for granted when I’m expected to do all of this work without asking.”
- You might also use “I” statements to actively listen to others. Active listening involves rephrasing what the other person said to demonstrate that you understand their feelings. For example, you might say, “I understand that you’re stressed out. I know that this dinner is a huge responsibility for you.”
Lead conversations.If you're worried that the host is going to monopolize conversations or bring up uncomfortable topics, try leading the discussion yourself. Come prepared with a few topics to discuss. This can help you stay in control of the conversation.
- You may want to have a few topics to engage each family member to reduce your interaction with the host. For example, you can ask your cousin how college is going or talk to your mother about how her garden is doing.
State why you can’t do something.Instead of outright refusing your host’s demands, you can gently explain why you cannot do something. Whenever you state something, you can follow it up with a phrase that begins with “because.” This can help encourage your host to back off.
- You might say, “I can’t stay long because I have an appointment that afternoon.”
- If the host or another family member is bothering you about certain choices in your life, this tactic can also help. For example, you might say, “I’m not looking to have children right now because I need to focus on my career before I can start a family.”
- That said, if you would rather not explain your choices or reasons, you do not have to. You can simply say, "I'd rather not talk about it."
Deflect unsolicited advice.Some family members may try to comment or pressure you into decisions you don’t want to make. You should end the conversation quickly and politely with a calm thank you. End the conversation there. Do not engage with their advice.
- If someone tries to give you advice about your love life, career, or family, you can simply say, “Thank you. I’ll keep your suggestions in mind.”
- If someone is asking uncomfortable questions about your personal life, you can try saying, “I have nothing to complain about” or “There’s nothing much to say.” If they try to press you for an answer, respond with “I’ll let you know if anything changes.”
Avoid defensive criticism.It may seem easy to react to a controlling or demanding family member with a snappy response. You may even want to confront them outright about their behavior. This could start a large argument. Instead, try to step back. Come up with a diplomatic answer that does not blame or accuse them. Focus instead on a peaceful response.
- Instead of saying, “I brought the best gift I could. I think that you should appreciate what I bought you,” you can say, “I’m sorry you’re disappointed. I thought you would have liked it.”
- If it is difficult to speak or interact with the host without becoming emotional, angry, or upset, you may just need to excuse yourself.
Resolving Conflicts With the Host
Take the host aside.If there is a serious issue that you must resolve with the host, it is better to do it privately than in front of the rest of the family. Wait until the host has a free minute. If they are busy trying to run the event, they may be frustrated and annoyed that you are bothering them, increasing your chances of a fight.
- If you feel that something is about to blow up, tell the host that you want to step aside. You might say, “Look. Let’s not discuss this here. If you want to talk, let’s step outside.”
- If you can, wait until after the event has wrapped up. Before the host leaves, you might ask them, “Hey, can we discuss what happened tonight?”
- In many cases, a family event is not the best place to deal with such a conflict. Although you may be upset or frustrated, it may be easier and more productive to wait a day or two before bringing it up to the host. This will allow you to prepare what you want to say without becoming emotional.
Remain calm.Keeping your composure is important to resolving conflict. By becoming upset, your host might be defensive, angry, or guilty. A calm, even voice and a gentle tone can help your host feel at ease as you bring up the issue.
- If your host says something to upset you, you can try counting to ten before responding.
- Deep breathing can help restore a sense of calm. Relax the muscles in your body as you do this.
- Pull another family member aside, and talk it out with them if you feel as though you need to vent.
Find common ground.If you and the host are beginning to argue, instead of asserting your different perspective, try to find something in common with what they are saying. By focusing on your commonalities, you reduce the risk of argument, and you help keep them calm.
- For example, if there are arguments about the menu, you might say, “I think we can all agree that we should have plenty of different options.”
- You can also redirect the conversation towards a less contentious topic. You might say, "Isn't it great that everyone could come today?"
- If you are disagreeing on how to do something, try to find a compromise. You might say, “I know that you want to take a hike after the reunion, but I think that will be hard on some of the older family members. How about I stay back with them while you go on the hike with everyone else?”
Come up with different options.Your host has probably spent a great deal of time planning the event, and they may want to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible. To help out, provide suggestions to solve problems as they come up. Do not simply state the problem or try to argue for one perspective.
- For example, you might say, “Well, since there doesn’t seem to be many options for the vegetarians in the family, how about I cook some vegetable dishes for them on the side? Or we could pick up something up from a restaurant.”
Avoid feeling guilty.Some people might use guilt against their family members as a way of coercing them to do things. Remember that while it is nice to help out your family, you can refuse their requests. Do not be afraid to assert your boundaries. You can let the person know that you understand why this is important to them, but you should also reinforce that you are unable or unwilling to do something.
- You might say, “I understand how important this is to you, and I would be love to be able to spend more time with you, but I just cannot get there until the day before the wedding.”
- If you're uncertain whether or not you should refuse the host's demands, ask yourself how you will feel in a few days. Do you think that helping will cause you to resent the host, or will you not care in the long run?
Apologize and forgive.If you lost your cool, you should apologize to the family member as soon as possible. Alternatively, if they have gotten angry at you, you should try to forgive them. In this way, you can mend your relationship, and there is a chance you both can still enjoy the event.
- Try to address the issue in a polite, non-confrontational way. State why you felt so upset so that the host can avoid it in the future. You might say, “I am so sorry for snapping at you. I think I was just stressed out by all the work that needed to be done. I think I might need a break to cool down.”
- Do not tell someone you forgive them until they apologize to you. If they do apologize, you can say, “It’s no problem. I forgive you. I understand family events can be stressful.” If they do not apologize, try to swallow your anger and move on. Telling them that you forgive them without an apology first can be seen as presumptuous.
- It is ok to take some time to forgive the host. You do not need to forgive them immediately. Focus on getting through the event. Afterwards, you can work on reconciliation.
- Try to enjoy the event. Remember, you are there to see family and catch up. If you can make it a positive experience, it may be easier to deal with the host.
- If you have consistent problems with family members that affect every gathering, you should talk to them separately. Wait until after the event or for a time when no one is busy.
- If it is your spouse or significant other’s family, you can ask them for help mediating any conflict.
- Avoid touchy topics that you know will upset your host.
- If the host insults you or verbally abuses you, try to remain calm. Do what you can to resolve the issue peacefully, but understand that some people may not be swayed by peaceful communication techniques.
Video: HOW TO DEAL WITH DEMANDING CLIENTS? | JASANSWERS 026
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