The year-end holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Not having a job can make it even tougher.
Ironically but not surprising, the holiday gatherings that are the most challenging are often those that involve family. For many jobseekers, the time leading up to the gathering is often more challenging than the event itself.
Concerns over the kinds of comments that might occur, sometimes unexpectedly, can cause many jobseekers to shy away and even dread, not just the event, but also the entire season. Preparing ahead of time can minimize anxiety, educate family members, and hopefully draw healthy boundaries so everyone can enjoy time together.
Most family gatherings consist of open conversations (like around the dining table) as well as sub-conversations that are more private. It can help to remember that the awkwardness is experienced by everyone in the room, not just the jobseeker. Jobseekers can help ease everyone’s awkwardness by being prepared and gently guiding and educating friends and family before and during the event.
Preparation & Suggestions:
- Decide what you want: Write down the names of people you expect to see during the holidays. Include your concerns about the kinds of comments that might be made
- Communicate ahead of time: Consider writing or calling people beforehand. Express your concern and define clear boundaries regarding acceptable conversation. Example, “Hi Jane. I’ve been thinking about the family dinner and want to be sure it’s enjoyable for everyone. I would appreciate it if we don’t talk about my job search. Will that work for you?”
Prepare a comment you believe you can deliver without negative emotional inflections if the conversation goes someplace that’s off-limits. For example, you might choose to say, “Thanks for asking, I’d rather not talk about that today.” (Immediately, but casually, change the subject by asking a question to avoid an awkward moment.)
- Decide ahead of time, that you will not react to insensitive comments. Also decide at what point you believe it may be better to leave the conversation or even the premises.
- Have a back-up plan. This could be simply to move to different company – like a youngster, or a non-family-member guest
- Prepare questions and comments that allows everyone, including younger members to participate. Come armed with compliments or stories that are fun and complimentary. Here are some suggestions:
- Think through the guest list and identify one or two positive things you can say to each person. This could be a personal attribute, or something in the past that has been especially helpful to you.
- Go around the table (or room) and everyone in turn, says something nice about the person on their right, then on their left.(I know this sounds a bit contrived, however, if the conversation becomes strained, this can help everyone relax and have fun in a positive way.
- What are you most thankful for this year?
- Offer a question for everyone to answer: What was the best part of 2016?
- Everyone in turn answers the question: What are your hopes for 2017?
Obviously these questions can be asked in smaller conversations as well as the group at large. They allow the jobseeker to maintain control and steer conversation away from sensitive areas. So if someone crosses the line in conversation, the jobseeker can simply change the subject to a prepared question.
- Gift giving. Determine what is truly feasible on your budget. Traditions or expectations from previous years may not be possible. To spend outside your means will only further stress your relationships so you may have to make some specific decisions here. If a particular family member is someone you can talk to in confidence, then they may be able to help you decide how to handle the situation.
- Consider an alternative. Some people decide to spend all or part of the day volunteering at a soup kitchen or other facility. Helping those who are less fortunate can bring a perspective to our own situation and keep negative thoughts at bay. So many jobseekers have found a renewed sense of gratitude during their job search.
- Count your blessings. This can be a challenge, however many people find it helpful.
Dos and Don’ts:
- Decide before hand what conversations will be detrimental to your mental and emotional safety. In short: keep it positive. This includes sarcasm, which is too easily misunderstood.
- Don’t be snookered or “baited” into conversations that will have a negative impact on your attitude—no matter how tempting.
- Don’t say anything that you will regret. This includes anything that causes embarrassment, or puts a damper on the party. Even if you are right. Even if they “deserve it”, “asked for it”, or are unkind.
- Use the opportunity to show strength of character. Set the example. Build trust. Come armed with compliments and stories that show the best side of the people there.
- Determine that you want to have a good time and enjoy that you are with people who, regardless of their annoying quirks, care about you.