One of the greatest things about working for GLI – besides the water fights, sing-alongs, birthday cakes, and post-ropes course a-wooing – is the annual opportunity to work on my communication skills. Being emotionally honest, authentically expressing myself, and handling issues without damaging relationships are skills that take practice, even well into adulthood. I’m lucky to have a work environment that places such emphasis on fostering those skills. Practicing at camp prepares me for the real world. Especially during the holiday season, I find myself feeling grateful for the conflict management strategies I teach and learn at GLI.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the holidays. All the cheesy tunes, weird specials on television, over the top lights… I dig it, but the holidays have always brought a lot of stress as well as joy. When I was younger, my parents and I had to travel to visit family every year. Now that I’m an adult, holidays are stressful for a slew of new reasons, primarily those involving navigating relationships. And navigating relationships can be tricky, especially during a season in which the expectations are so high. Sooner or later, conflict is bound to pop up somewhere.
This holiday season, conflict showed up on my birthday, two days before Thanksgiving, after a 12-hour car ride in an overstuffed Toyota. It was 11:30 at night, and I was rinsing beans to soak for a big family meal to be held the following day. I was exhausted and talking on the phone to my Mom, when my partner’s sister Sara, who had been listening to my conversation, suddenly exploded over my use of the word “drama” in reference to our sleeping arrangements. After some yelling back and forth, I was alone in the kitchen, still rinsing beans, now with shaking hands and eyes full of tears. I did not want my holiday, where I was an outsider surrounded by my partner’s family, to continue like this. I knew I had to talk to Sara, but I was terrified. As a recovering Good Girl, I am a conflict avoider. Sure, I know the four steps for managing conflict: affirm the relationship, say how you feel, acknowledge your contribution, ask for what you need. But, knowing them and using them are very different things. I’d never had to use them before, and I worried that they might not work, or that they might backfire.
After twenty minutes of deep breathing and rehearsing what I was going to say, I “four stepped” Sara. I botched a few things because I was nervous, but we ended the night with a hug. The next day, we apologized to each other again, and the air between us felt truly clear. We had grown into a new, more honest, stage in our relationship, and managed not to do any permanent damage in the process. The conflict didn’t upset our holiday cheer, either. We had a great week together.
I tell you all this to encourage you to get out there this holiday – or school year, or prom season, or whenever you feel stress and conflict brewing – and utilize what you learned at GLI: trust yourself. I am 27 years old, and it was scary to affirm my relationship with Sara and make myself vulnerable to her by expressing my feelings, but it worked! You, too, have the tools you need to put conflict in its place, you just need to get out there and apply them!