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Pro-tip for surviving holiday confrontation with family: 'Think like a hostage negotiator'

Experts at West Virginia University have a few tips for people who might have confrontation with family members during the holidays. (MGN Online)

CHARLESTON, WV (WCHS/WVAH) - Experts at West Virginia University have a message for families getting together for the holidays: "Think of yourself as a hostage negotiator."

The holiday season can, in many cases, bring together family members who often do not see each other to one table. With varying political and personal beliefs, this can often bring tension to even the closest of families.


In preparation of gathering together in this post-election season, West Virginia University experts offered tips in a news release on minimizing family confrontation during the holidays.

Elizabeth Cohen, an assistant professor of communication studies, said tense situations should be met with calm responses.

“If somebody was threatening somebody’s life and you had to talk them out of it, you wouldn’t yell at them, or call them names, or insult their worldview. That would just set them off,” Cohen said.

Instead, Cohen suggests calmly asking questions to gain insight about the other person.


Dr. John Shibley, who also teaches communication studies, said listening can be a key step in argument prevention.

“We really don’t learn when we’re controlling the conversation,” Shibley said. “Use listening as a means of discovering the other. Strive to listen in a non-defensive manner."

A psychologist at the university, Elijah Wise, said that people should not be afraid to lean on like-minded family members during times of stress. Wise also encourages people to reach out to friends who you can text or call for reassurance.

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