While office holiday parties and enormous family gatherings might be a thing of the past — at least temporarily — for some people, this time of year can still bring on extra stress. It can be in the form of baking and wrapping and working your way through the maze that is mall parking, but mostly, it’s those somewhat difficult personalities we have to carefully navigate. You know who I’m talking about.

In the second episode in our series, The Grown-Ass Woman’s Guide to Thriving Through the Holidays, author, speaker and communication expert, Alex Perry, shares how language and confidence can make or break your holiday season.

Where does confidence and language come into play when we are about to reconnect with people that maybe we don’t feel so confident being around? Alex says it’s important to start with a game plan. “We plan where we’re going to meet, what we’re going to do, what sorts of activities there will be,” Alex says, “But how much time do you plan ahead for how you’re going to respond to the thing that you know is going to happen?”

Grandma’s going to tell that story that makes you incredibly uncomfortable. She’s going to do it, and you are either going to sit through that miserably; maybe you’re going to have a glass of wine and like storm out of the room. You’re going to pull your husband aside and say, ‘I want to get out of here ’cause your mom keeps telling that story and I can’t take it.’ I don’t know where you fall in that, but if you stop before you ever get there and plan for how you’re going to communicate during the particular uncomfortable thing that’s likely to happen, because that’s what happens when we get around other people, then you can address it with confidence.

How does that practice look?

Alex says it’s all about anticipating what will happen and deciding in advance how you’ll respond in a way that will reflect you and the other person in the best possible light. “It takes effort and you have to practice out loud, but you can absolutely plan for it.”

But what about that uncle who won’t stop spewing his opinions about all things controversial? How do we prepare for that? Alex says there are certain topics that are just to be avoided in a family, social and professional setting, including politics and religion, or pretty much anything controversial that you know is going to be a no win conversation for anyone. “If  you know that you can’t talk about vaccines with Uncle Charlie, then why on earth would you bring it up or participate in the conversation?”

Being prepared to say, ‘I’m not going to talk about this,’ walking away and practicing being quiet is also equally as important as what you might say in response. Oftentimes we’re like, ‘I’m going to try to convince Uncle Charlie’. Well, Uncle Charlie’s not going to be convinced. No amount of Facebook posts and text messages and articles sent, Uncle Charlie’s made up his mind. So you might as well enjoy time with Uncle Charlie and talk about put put and stay away from the vaccines or whatever it is that gets the other person charged.

More suggestions from Alex

  • Plan an escape route. Tag a cousin, a friend, have somebody that’s willing to step in and pull you away.
  • Break up the conversation by interjecting humor. There’s generally somebody in the mix of coworkers or family that can break the  tension. Warn that person in advance, ‘Hey, if you hear this happening, can you pop your head in and shut it down? It’s a great way to negate stress during any conversation, but especially the holidays.

Where does confidence come into play when navigating these relationships? If you’re walking into a holiday party with people that you’re not necessarily comfortable with, or that you’re not looking  forward to seeing, Alex says confidence is key.

If I’m already thinking I’m uncomfortable, I’m likely to show the physical characteristics of discomfort. Planning ahead before that event and thinking ‘Where are my points  for success? Where might  I feel good? Where might I start at this where I feel at least a  bit more confident than others?’ Start where you’re most comfortable so you get some easy wins in your pocket, and build up to more challenging stuff. But if you’re telling yourself it’s going to be hard and uncomfortable, then you’ve got to change that thought immediately — immediately.

Just like the other 11 months out of the year, the only person’s behavior you actually have control over is your own. I can’t stress enough the importance of putting your needs at the top of your list. Whether it’s the holiday season or not saying no to what you really don’t want to do (and listening to last week’s episode with Melody Murray).

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About Our Guest:

Alex Perry is the CEO of Practically Speaking, LLC & author of Minivan Mogul: A Crash Course in Confidence for Women. Her passion for communication comes from spending nearly two decades as a Speech-Language Pathologist, helping people regain the ability to talk after illness or injury. Alex is a motivational TEDx speaker, facilitator, and mentor. She helps others speak and share their stories with confidence using strategies she’s learned the hard way throughout her career. Her background includes advanced work in adult neurology and emotional intelligence. Alex blends her scientific approach speaking with her love of storytelling and humor into her work with individual clients and corporate teams. Most importantly, she’s a mom, minivan driver, and front-row fan of her clients. Connect with Alex on LinkedInInstagram or Facebook.