Expecting family drama this Christmas? Follow these simple rules

Expecting family drama this Christmas? Follow these simple rules

It’s that time of year again! The roads and airports are bulging with people travelling on their way to meet up with extended family for Christmas. Sometimes it’s for a day, sometimes it’s several days, often it can be a week or more.

The location and relationships are unique to every family, but the one thing that is often a constant is the propensity for drama. Or at the very least, irritation.

It can be a recipe for disaster bringing together relatives and friends from across multiple generations, diverse interests and beliefs. But it doesn’t have to be.

A simple rule of thumb that works with families, just as well as it works with professional colleagues, is the mantra: respect trumps harmony.

It simply means: “we don’t have to always get along. We don’t have to agree on everything. But we will always treat each other with respect.”

And the most effective tool for building respect in any team, especially families, is ‘No Triangles’.

No Triangles is the practice of direct conversations. If I have an issue with someone, I go direct to that person, and not to a third party. Implementing a No Triangles rule builds respect in a team and ensures we are treating each other with integrity.

Having a practice of No Triangles is about having the common decency, the courtesy and the professionalism to deal directly with a person, to go straight to the source and have an honest and respectful conversation.

4 Types of Triangles

There are 4 types, or sources, of Triangles that I often see in teams. I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I see the most.

Malicious Gossip

Malicious gossip is where someone sets out to privately undermine and destabilise someone else by spreading half-truths and falsehoods. Gossip that is deliberately designed to drag down another person or team is toxic, whether it’s in the workplace, home or in your social circles.

Idle Gossip

This is less destructive in the short term, but it’s still something you want to deal with. Speculation, innuendo and passing on bits of private information can be really harmful to relationships when that information (often misinformation) finds its way back to the person being spoken about (and it usually does!).


A family member comes to you to complain about another family member. They don’t want you to do anything about it and expect you to keep it private. In other words, they’re just whingeing. This type of whingeing is exhausting. And worse still, nothing changes.

Answer Shopping

Answer shopping is when someone asks you a request and you don’t give them the answer that they want, so they go around you or over your head to “shop around” until they do get it from somebody else. It’s bad.

We know why people do it, because it works. But if you’ve ever been the person who said ‘no’, you will never forget how that feels. It is so disempowering to be undermined, and it will destroy all trust in a team.

The most important part of implementing No Triangles is that every person commits to it.

As you enjoy your family time, remember that if someone – other than a small child – comes up to you and tries to engage you in one of those “she said this to me” or “he did that to me” conversations, you now have a tool to manage it. It will save you time, energy and sanity. Good luck!

Rachael Robertson’s Leading On The Edge is available here

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