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November 24, 2021

How to Handle Non-Inclusive Family & Friends During the Holidays

We are gearing up for yet another holiday season filled with warmth and lots of good cheer. But let’s face it, some of us are also gearing up for the discomfort, frustration, and even anger to be incited by those non-inclusive family members and friends.

You know, the ones who consistently commit micro- and macroaggressions, either for the fun of it or simply because they don’t know any better. It’s hard to acknowledge anything in between.

You’ve tried to educate them in the past, or maybe you’ve steered clear of them simply to avoid conflict and “keep the peace.” As you ponder your coping strategy for this year’s festivities, here are a few pointers on how to prepare for and deal with non-inclusive behavior from our given and/or chosen families.


Tips for Before the Gathering
Consider Folks’ Location on the Inclusion Journey

I promise this is more for you than it is for them. Not everyone has the same disposition to inclusion. Similarly, not everyone is at the same place in regards to the journey to being inclusive. Understanding where folks are on that journey can help you determine how much energy you desire to allocate towards engaging with them around the topics of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and/or belonging.

There are a number of helpful continuums you can use to identify where folks might be in the inclusion journey. Here’s mine, inspired by Deloitte’s 6 personas of strategic change:

My own personal line is drawn at the unaware disposition. Anyone behind the line of unaware I refuse to allot time and energy to during an event meant for enjoyment, fun, and fellowship. Where do you draw your personal line on this continuum? Making this determination ahead of time helps you determine in real-time how to respond and engage with those who are non-inclusive.

Determine what success looks like for you

Beforehand, it is also helpful to personally identify your goals and definition of success for this particular event. Is one of your goals to use this opportunity of gathering to enlighten those you engage with and challenge the perspectives of those in the room? Or, is your goal to simply enjoy your holiday and use it as a time to unplug from the daily challenges? This is particularly helpful for those of us who combat injustice, inequity, and exclusion every day in our work. It is ok for us to have days and times that serve as a retreat for us.

Clearly identifying your goals and definition of success helps inform how you move throughout the gathering — from the conversations you choose to engage in, to the people you choose to engage with.


Tips for During the Gathering
Establish collective boundaries upfront

This is particularly helpful for those you know to be non-inclusive from experience, particularly in these types of group scenarios. After you’ve entered and exchanged pleasantries with everyone in the room, maybe pull this person aside and establish some common boundaries for conversation and engagement. What topics can you agree to steer clear of for the sake of everyone’s experience? Another approach is to have this conversation as a group.

Use the Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern

A friend of mine once told me about the Circle of Influence vs. Circle of Concern and I’ve used it seemingly daily ever since as a tool to help me manage my energy, time, and stress. I also share this tool with many of my audiences and leaders.

In short, we all have many things in our circle of concern. We are concerned about systemic racism, poverty, homelessness, what our friends and family do, what the internet thinks, and so many more things. When we spend our energy, time, and resources focused on these things inside of our circle of concern that we cannot directly change alone, it is easy to grow weary, overwhelmed, frustrated, and hopeless, among many other things.

The good news is, with all of the things inside of our circle of concern, there are indeed things that lie in our circle of influence that if done, can absolutely impact the state of things in our circle of concern. For example, I care a lot about systemic racism. It is in my circle of concern. As much as I wish I could, I cannot end systemic racism alone. However, there are things I can do to impact the end of systemic racism. I can vote for candidates who understand it and are committed to fixing it. I can teach about it in my work and share with others how we dismantle it. I can be actively anti-racist in my daily encounters, and the list goes on.

As you engage with non-inclusive behavior from family and friends throughout this holiday season, I encourage you to consider– what can you actually do to impact their behavior? What is in your circle of influence verses in your circle of concern? Perhaps their actions in general fall in your circle of concern, but not your circle of influence. Considering the continuum we spoke about earlier can be helpful here as well.


Tips for After the Gathering

Preparing for handling non-inclusive family and friends during the holidays is critical, as is effectively navigating these situations according to your goals real-time. Just as important is what we do afterward.

Reflect

Take the time to reflect on your actions during the Gathering. Did you reinforce your boundaries? Did you effectively use the Circle of Influence vs. the Circle of Concern? Did you respond to others’ behaviors and words in the way you desired? Did you accomplish your goals? Spending such time in reflection enables you to understand what you might want to do differently the next time. It also helps you understand how to move forward.

Follow up with any helpful resources

For those you did decide to engage with around inclusion, and actually had productive conversations with, you want to make sure you water the seed you planted and maintain that growth momentum. Consider sharing a resource or two with that individual that builds upon what you shared thus far, walking them through the door that you opened at the gathering.

As inclusion advocates, there’s often a decision to be made in these types of personal festivities. Do we engage? Do we fight? Do we challenge? Or, do we self-preserve? Do we choose ourselves? Do we prioritize “peace”? That decision is ultimately yours to make, but I hope these tips help you make it soundly.

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Raven Solomon


Raven is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Speaker, Author, & Strategist who helps organizations understand generations, racial equity, and their intersection.

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