Family Reunion: Gearing Up For Fight or Flight?

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New research shows the ability to hold crucial conversations is key to enjoying a family reunion

New research from the authors of the New York Times bestsellser, Crucial Conversations, shows four out of five people have had miserable family reunions plagued by their relative's bad

Whether it's precedent, long-standing family dynamics, or plain old fear, something tells us that remaining silent will yield more results than confronting our relative's bad behavior

Len Wittrock avoids family reunions and gatherings when he knows his younger brother will be in attendance. In the past, Wittrock's brother used each reunion as an opportunity to confront him and tell him why he vehemently opposed everything he and his wife believed in. Despite Wittrock's efforts to look past their differences, his brother continued to bait him with rude and insulting comments.

Unfortunately, new research reveals Wittrock is not alone in dreading family reunions.

According to research conducted by VitalSmarts and the authors of the New York Times bestseller, Crucial Conversations, four out of five people have attended a "miserable" family reunion. However, despite the prevalence of dysfunctional family get-togethers, the research shows that a person's ability to hold crucial conversations can change their entire outlook on reuniting with family.

The study of more than 700 respondents reveals that whether you desire or dread your next family reunion is not determined by how likely you think family problems are to occur; rather, it's determined by whether or not you think you can solve them when they happen. Specifically, nine out of ten people who are skilled at holding crucial conversations enjoy their family reunions despite the unruly behavior of their relatives.

And according to the survey, it's almost inevitable that bad behavior will surface at your next family gathering.

Respondents report the three most common bad behaviors plaguing their family reunions include:
1) Bad attitudes and grumpy relatives
2) "Cold wars" between relatives who dislike and avoid one another
3) Conflict between relatives who don't get along
More than half of respondents fully expect this year's reunion will be spoiled by one or more of their relatives behaving in these and similar ways.

However, despite relatives' persistent bad behavior, fewer than one in ten people step up to and try to solve the problems. But when they do speak up, they don't necessarily speak up to the person at the root of the problem. Instead, half of the vocal respondents either complain to their spouse or vent to a relative they know will agree with them, while 13 percent talk to everyone except the person at the root of the problem.

Joseph Grenny, author of the national bestseller, Crucial Conversations, says that while we can't choose our relatives, we can choose the way in which we react to their behavior.

"Whether it's precedent, long-standing family dynamics, or plain old fear, something tells us that remaining silent will yield more results than confronting our relative's bad behavior," says Grenny. "And yet, what most people don't realize is that their silence and inability to hold candid and respectful conversations with their relatives is actually ruining relationships and driving families apart."

Grenny says that by developing these five skills, people can once again look forward to reuniting with family:

  • Work on me first. How you see your relatives determines how you treat them. To help soften judgments, ask yourself, "Why would a reasonable, rational and decent person do what they're doing?" For example, do you see your Uncle Fester with a poor driving record as criminally irresponsible or as harried and in need of help?
  • Make it safe. When confronting bad behavior, first help the other person know you care about his or her interests. For example, when approaching Uncle Fester who's coming down with the flu and kissing everyone he greets, begin with, "Uncle Fester, it wouldn't be a holiday if I didn't get one of your hugs. I'm glad you're so affectionate and warm to all of us, but . . . ."
  • Just the facts. Start with the facts and strip out accusatory, judgmental and inflammatory language. "Uncle Fester, I notice you are sick. And I noticed you've been dipping your chips in the bowl after biting half off . . . ."
  • Tentatively share concerns. Having laid out the facts, tell the person why you're concerned, but don't do it as an accusation--share it as an opinion. "My concern is that with all of us in such close proximity, we're all going to come down with the flu. I know you don't want that either."
  • Invite dialogue. After sharing your concerns, encourage the other person to share his--even if he disagrees with you. One of the best ways to persuade others is to listen to them. "So Uncle Fester, is there a way we can get your warmth and love without getting more than you mean to give? Or am I seeing this wrong?"

About VitalSmarts
An innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, VitalSmarts is home to award-winning training products that deliver powerful tools for enriching relationships and improving end results. The company also has three New York Times bestselling books, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer. VitalSmarts has been listed twice on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies and has taught more than 2 million people worldwide.

Note to editor: Joseph Grenny, coauthor of, Crucial Conversations, is available for interview. Copies of the book are available upon request. Len Wittrock is also available for interview as well as other respondents' who have shared their personal stories of ruined family reunions. To inquire about stories and contact information, please contact Brittney Maxfield at bmaxfield @

About the research: The study collected responses via an online survey tool from 706 individuals. Margin of error is approximately 3%. Full survey results are available upon request.

Contact: Brittney Maxfield of VitalSmarts, L.C. +1-801-724-6272.


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