Survival Tips to Negotiate the Holiday Season Part III – Negotiating Family Dynamics

Welcome to the final instalment in our series on Survival Tips to Negotiate the Holiday Season! Holidays can be a challenging time for many. There is pressure from all sides to be ever joyful while many struggle with money worries, time stressors, and navigating difficult family dynamics. Our realities rarely measure up against the Hallmark version of life this time of year. The good news is that you can take control of your holiday experience with simple negotiation practices. 

In Part I we turned our attention to your first and most important negotiation: Negotiating Your Mindset. In Part II we turned our attention to Negotiating Your Environment. In this final piece of the puzzle we’ll tackle Negotiating Family Dynamics, the #1 source of stress and Achilles heel for many. 


Families are typically one of our greatest sources of negative triggers. There is so much history and unresolved baggage, we can revert to old patterns that don’t serve us. Even in advance of the encounters, we often waste valuable time and emotional energy worrying about these expected unpleasant exchanges. 

Added to that, we are living in polarizing times and there is a seemingly limitless list of potentially sensitive topics to navigate. It can feel like a minefield. 

Part of the solution to this issue lies in negotiating your mindset (see Part I – particularly choosing how you want to show up and how you choose to react). Part of the solution lies in negotiating your environment (see Part II – particularly managing travel and choosing who you want to spend time with). And part of the solution lies in negotiating these interactions with intention. 

Recognize That You’re in a Negotiation

The first step is to recognize that you’re in a negotiation. All of life is a negotiation, whether it’s with yourself, your kids, your intimate partner or crusty Uncle Harold. We often fail to see these personal relationships as requiring negotiations. That failure will be to your detriment. 

Up-Level Your Negotiation Skills

Adopt simple models to elevate your negotiation skills so you can show up as the best version of yourself and increase your chances of getting better outcomes for all. 

  1. No F.E.A.R. Model

One such model is my No F.E.A.R. model. In advance of a family get together or approaching an anticipated difficult conversation or exchange with family, consider your Fears, Ego, Attachment & Reactivity. 

  • Fears (what they are and how they may show up and interfere with best outcomes); 
  • Ego (how does ego show up for you and how can you avoid it to come from a place of empathy); 
  • Attachment (what things you’re likely to be attached to and how you might be more flexible and open to understanding the other person’s perspectives and needs); 
  • Reactivity (what triggers cause you to become reactive and how can you prepare to avoid or neutralize reactivity). 

Do the same exercise vis-à-vis the other person (i.e. what are their likely fears, etc). We often approach family members with built-in old assumptions based on our history with them and forget to check in to consider their perspective. 

Here's a link to grab a free copy of my No F.E.A.R. Negotiating eBook if you want to take a deeper dive on this issue. 

  1. 5W Model

Another simple model is my 5W’s system. In advance of an interaction (i.e. negotiation) with a family member, consider Who, What, Where, When & Why with intention.  


Who do you want to show up as? Who is the other person likely to show up as? Who are they expecting you to show up as? Who should be involved in the discussion and who should be excluded if possible? 


What outcomes do you seek (both in terms of substance and relationship)? What strategies will best serve to secure those outcomes? What questions can you ask to get better buy-in?


Decide where the discussion ought to take place. Setting is important (in novels and in life). Consider your setting with intention. What environment will best serve to get better outcomes? 


Consider the timing of your interaction with intention. As kids we intuitively knew to use timing to our advantage, but as adults, when the stakes are arguably much higher, we often forget this important factor. 


Consider both your deeper why and the why that is likely driving the other person. Stated needs are typically the tip of the iceberg. It’s the deeper why that lies under the surface that will move the dial to better results. Knowing your deep why allows you to bring emotional resonance to a negotiation without being emotional. 

Here’s a link to grab a free copy of my 5 Secret Weapons to Effective Negotiation eBook if you’re ready to dive deeper into this powerful model. 

  1. A.R.E. F.I.T. Model

In every negotiation, be sure to invoke what I call the A.R.E. F.I.T. model. It’s a powerful negotiation tool generally, and especially when dealing with family. 

Invoke the six key skills of effective negotiators in each negotiation:

A  Assertiveness

Assertive does not mean aggressive. Assertiveness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from knowledge. Knowledge comes from preparation. Prepare for your negotiations with your family as you would for a high stakes business deal. 

R  Rapport-building

Don’t just dive in to the ‘business’ at hand. Consider with intention how you can build rapport at the outset of the negotiation/interaction. Building connection leads to better outcomes. We often ignore this important step when dealing with family, assuming that our history makes it irrelevant. It is arguably even more important in navigating the dangerous waters of family dynamics. Ignore it at your peril. 

E  Empathy

Bring empathy to the table. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Try to truly understand their position and needs. You don’t have to agree, but it’s important to understand. With family, we often assume we already know what they’re thinking and what they want. Let go of those assumptions. Listen. Reflect back what they say. Ask questions. Let them feel seen, heard and understood. It will pay off. 

F  Flexibility

Be open to creative outcomes other than what you had in mind. There may be even better solutions or options than you had anticipated. 

I  Intuition

Trust your intuition. If your inner voice is screaming that you ought to avoid saying what you were thinking of saying, perhaps you ought to listen. 

T  Trust

Building trust is the foundation of any relationship and is key to getting better negotiated outcomes. Be intentional about ways in which you can build trust. Again, we often fail to do this with family, assuming that trust is automatically there. This is a mistake. Old unresolved family wounds often require even more attention and effort to re-establish trust.  

Ask for What You Want

Don’t assume that those who care about you should magically intuit what you want. Ask for what you want. Be clear. If this is new for you, I invite you to practice the skill. Make a point of finding 5 things/day to ask for. Get into the habit. It’s not reasonable to get angry, hurt or resentful about not getting what you want if you haven’t given those around you clarity about what that is. 

Likewise, don’t assume you know what others in your life want or feel. Don’t be afraid to get curious and ask powerful questions. It will allow for more productive negotiations and outcomes. 

Reframe Success

We are often conditioned to see negotiations as a win/lose proposition. This belief is based on outdated, traditional, competitive models that do not serve you. Instead, I invite you to see negotiation as a collaborative process, where we’re seeking to understand and meet each other's needs, remaining open to unexpected creative solutions beyond our individual focus. Look for genuine win/win solutions for all. You may be surprised at the gifts that surface.  

Last Words

These simple tips can make a world of difference in how you experience and enjoy the holidays. Hope you found some value in them. Set your intentions and live into a more joyful, engaged holiday season.



A.R.E.F.I.T. Model, assertiveness, bargaining, Empathy, empowerment, Flexibility, intuition, No F.E.A.R Negotiations, Rapport-building, trust yourself

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