Really (really) Don't Break the Christmas Dinner Rule

It’s that time of year when the joy of Christmas and summer holidays is upon us. It’s a time when many of us will take a break from the office, head to the beach and gather with family. For family businesses, the holidays will likely mean spending more time with the people you have worked alongside all year. If there are challenges with family business relationships or even conflict in the family business, there is a risk this will carry on outside the office and into the Christmas celebrations. If relationships in your family business are sometimes a little rocky, we’ve got some expert advice on keeping things calm over Christmas lunch.


Reflecting on the highs and lows of 2021

I think we all bought into the false dawn of 2021, believing all would be good. There was a sense of relief to see 2020 end, not realising what we were walking into in 2021.

I know a number of you have struggled like hell. It has been tough and stressful. It’s fair to say that no government has handled their response to the pandemic perfectly but some have got it more right than others. Regardless of what we think of government policies (and we all have quite a number of thoughts on this) surviving as a family business has been challenging. Thank goodness we are family-owned because this brings a better chance at survival than most other businesses. Family businesses tend to have less debt, take a long-term view, and we have family.

I was recently talking to a friend who told me she thought she was depressed during lockdown. I told her she wasn’t depressed, she was having a perfectly normal reaction to a totally abnormal event happening in our lives. Everyone has struggled with the sudden lockdowns, the uncertainty, not seeing family and the general craziness of it all. It would be abnormal to not feel down, as that is what it is to be human. We’re not depressed we’re having a perfectly normal reaction to abnormal events and it sucks.

However, I remain optimistic. The vaccine strategy in both Australia and New Zealand is starting to kick in and things may be turning a corner in 2022 – hopefully.

The Christmas period means different things for different businesses. For some, it is very busy, for some it’s a critical time for cash flow, and for others it will be a relief to be able to close the doors. In New Zealand, people will head to the bach, in Australia the holiday house. Wherever you are, it will probably include Christmas dinner with the family.

And this is where you need to be aware.


The reality is most people have had it tough in some way this year and this can result in taking our frustrations out on our nearest and dearest. God knows why we do this, but we do.

Before you start venting your frustrations this Christmas, remember this is family. These are the people who we love the most in the world (and sometimes the people who drive us crazy as well). Often this lashing out or letting off steam has nothing to do with the poor family member it is aimed at, it’s our own frustrations.

So be careful. Everyone is experiencing the pandemic differently and everyone has their own way of managing and coping. Now that we have the ability to travel and gather together, let’s not lose the victory by letting stress and concerns ruin things.

Family interaction is often played out through old, repeating patterns and ingrained behaviour that dictates how we interact and react in our family.


For example, when your sibling starts rabbiting on about what you’ve done and you can feel your blood boil, the temptation is to react in your normal way (which of course is expected and known by them). They react in their standard manner (which you expect and know well) and the situation quickly escalates and emotions rise. You suddenly find yourself telling them exactly what you think to the shock and horror of you and most of the people in the room. The old pattern you were just in, gave you the perfect opportunity to spew out pent-up concerns, worries and stresses from the year onto your sibling.  It may feel good at the time, but it won’t later.

What they initially said may have been irritating, however, it does not deserve the “bucket of sh@t” you’ve just tipped over them.

So be ready for it.


Think about who in the family is most likely to wind you up or irritate you. In my family, my sister was the master at this. Then, think through what they might say or do (all she had to do was bring up certain stories and use certain pet names that I hated as a kid and I would be off). You probably know the patterns well but it’s also good to know you have the ability to choose how you react.

Before everyone arrives, find a quiet moment (and a glass of wine if required) and think through what has happened in the past. You’ll be surprised how well you know the pattern. Write down the things they say, the words you respond with and look at how the pattern plays out.

You can choose to respond the way you normally do and therefore maintain the patten, or you can choose a different way. If you were to respond in a different way, you may find the other person would be completely surprised and not know how to respond. So, write down some alternative responses to words that have previously irritated or wound you up. It could be a different response or it might be saying nothing. It might be an action like, filling their water glass instead, standing up and going to the loo, start singing the national anthem, turn and talk to someone else, tell them how gorgeous they’re looking. It can be anything, as long as it provokes a surprise reaction because that’s what makes the pattern stop. They can’t respond in the same way and you are not triggered in the same way.

If you want more information on this, we cover ways to break old family patterns in our newest webinar, Resolving Family Conflict 201.


Christmas is an amazing time, it’s summer, holidays, and a time to get together as a family around the dinner table. So enjoy it. Realise how much you love your family, how important they are and how you couldn’t do this without them.

From everyone here at Family Business Central, Vivian, Bob, Steve, Kat, and myself, we wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous and brilliant 2022.


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