Dr. Wall Says

Speak up, listen up, bridge the gap

How to Avoid Arguments This Holiday Season (Part II – Engaging w/o Raging)

There are two ways to avoid arguments. Your first option, avoid getting involved altogether. Step out of the way of those verbal jabs and deflect the inevitable baiting the way wonder woman deflects bullets with her Bracelets of Submission. Earlier this Fall I shared 5 tips to successfully avoid the circus in Part I of this article.

The second way to be argument free during the holidays or any other time you’re caught between a troll and a hard place is to engage without rage. Now it may sound easy, but this approach is actually far more difficult than keeping quiet altogether. To engage in meaningful discussions about hot topics without losing your mind or destroying relationships requires a vast amount of patience, self-awareness, and willingness to connect.

If you have those, or you aspire to develop them, then read on. These 5 tips will help you have a merry holiday season, a great start to the new year and honestly build deeper and more meaningful relationships with the people in your life.

How did we get here?

We’re facing strange times. We’re more polarized than ever, and yet, our ability to discuss and address these polarizing issues is at an all-time low.

I blame a number of factors for this sorry situation:

1) Our heavy reliance on indirect means of communication (emails, texts, IM’s) over face to face discussions. We’re out of practice people!

2)  Algorithms. As they stand the algorithms of your favorite social media, web browsers and search engines are designed to narrow your perspective (and worlds) to only those things you already like/know or explicitly seek.

3) And finally, there is the issue of human psychology. We, humans, have evolved to avoid danger and distress. In a world where trigger warnings give you a heads-up that things are about to get uncomfortable, and simple disagreements turn into flame wars in two sentences and three keystrokes, your biology predisposes you to step away and avoid ALL discomfort. The more you avoid something, the scarier it becomes. The more you avoid something, the less skilled you are at handling it. Et voilà that’s where we stand in 2018.

Which is why the strategies shared in Part I and now Part I of “How to Avoid Arguments…” are not only useful, they’re essential.

Tactical choices…

Quick reminder here. Both avoiding the circus and engaging without raging are great approaches. engagingIn real life, you’ll probably use a combination of tactics based on who you’re sitting with, the topic at hand, and how much sleep or peer pressure you face. When your cubicle neighbor, Ron, asks you for the umpteenth time when you’re going to bring a beau to the holiday ball office party, deflection might seem to be your best bet. Whereas engaging might will look far more tempting when your brother starts to complain about how all female bosses [insert stereotypical gripe of the day].

Whatever your choice, I’m here to help you figure out how to speak up, bridge gaps and avoid pointless arguments any season.

Engaging without Raging

1) Breathe: Bet you didn’t expect that. Breathe, it’s the first piece of clinical advice I give all my patients. We hold our breath when we get anxious. This reflex reinforces your brain’s perception that you’re facing danger. As you shift into fight or flight mode to stay safe, things either get nasty (fight), or you avoid dealing with something that needs to be addressed (flight). Breathe, you’ll relax and start thinking to think more clearly.

So when your cousin Lamar dismisses your frustration over being interrupted every three words by calling you sensitive, you’ll have the most poised and perfect response.

2) Ask questions: In ‘Avoiding the Circus’ I taught you to use questions to distract and deflect. You can also use questions to connect and understand.

When you start debating politics with mom, and her perspective makes you want to pull your hair and storm out of the room, ask questions. Yes, it is flabbergasting that the woman who birthed and nurtured you could see the world so differently. Yet you know her, she’s a good person. So instead of dismissing her as crazy or brainwashed, try to understand why your views diverge and practice #3…

3) Agree to disagree (for now): When it comes to hot topics people forget one fundamental truth: What you think becomes your reality. This means that you focus on information that supports your views, dismiss facts that don’t, and distort reality to fit your idea of it. Yes, you too do that!

So it’s a HUGE mistake to believe a single conversation will make someone see the world through your eyes. Instead of working on changing a person’s mind in a single, heated debate, try gaining a better understanding of where they stand. Help them understand why you think the way you do.

Your sister-in-law is going to be completely disarmed when she brings up her outrage at seeing a transwoman in her bathroom at the airport, and instead of trying to shame her, you talk about her experience and views of transgender humans calmly. Some changes take time and patience to achieve.

4) Chase what matters: Some people seem to get offended by everything. Don’t be that person. My engaginghusband often reminds me that you don’t have to show up for every fight (not that I do).

When you find yourself getting all worked up because your childhood bestie, Will, thinks you’re not looking all that feminine since you started lifting weights, ask yourself if that comment is worth chasing. Some might say yes, Willy’s comment reeks of female stereotyping, gender bias, and body shaming. If his words hit that nerve for you, go at it. For others, a second’s pause and consideration about what’s worth chasing will be enough to realize that his female ideals are meaningless. If you can disengage, then chances are a combination of tactic #2 and #3 will make for a lively and interesting discussion on feminine standards of beauty, societally imposed filters, and the importance of remembering that just because he has an opinion doesn’t mean Will needs to share it.

5) Do some prep work: What initially got me thinking about writing this post, was a session I had with a patient who was dreading her annual family camping trip. Her uncle always needled her and baited her into unwinnable, and ever infuriating arguments.

To prepare her for a fun and argument free trip, we discussed the strategies shared in these two posts. In other words, we did prep work. We considered who was going to attend the annual event, what topics were hot-button topics this year, and how best to engage or disengage from discussing them. Better prepared, she would know when to breathe, how to quickly identify what was worth chasing, and what questions to ask. Most important of all, she understood that a collaborative dialogue NOT a drag down unwinnable debate should be her ultimate goal

The Bigger Person

As I mentioned earlier, we’re at a place in time where having the ability to either step away from or engage in a conversation without having it devolve into an argument is becoming a rare but essential skill.


These 10 tips will help you enjoy the holidays with family and friends or build more understanding and goodwill in the world.

I have focused my life’s work on helping people (women) own their choices, find their voices, and create lives that are right for them. Learning to speak up to bridge the gaps that divide us is a huge piece of this ownership puzzle.

If you or your team need help to build connections, bridge gaps and learning how to speak up and stay civil, engaged and moving forward check out my speaking page and the workshops I help individuals and forward-thinking companies find their voice, be heard and build better teams. 

Until then I wish you a very happy end to this year and hope you’ll get back to me about your conversations this holiday season and how these strategies helped you.

All I want for 🎄Christmas is for you to share the love.

I would be so very grateful if you liked this post and shared it with your networks, families, and friends. Let’s start bridging gaps one conversation at a time.

Filed in:

Share on:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.



Free Resource

Unforgettable: How To Articulate Your Value With Clarity & Confidence


Building a career that allows you to show up at your best, doing what you love + are most skilled at.

Leadership Consulting

Creating systems & businesses that support your best and brightest.

Speaking & Training

Building strong, engaged and impactful teams.