How to Get Along When Things Go Wrong

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Illustration by Alli Arnold

Communicate in advance: "The best way to avoid conflict is to have a clear understanding of what each person's ideal vacation is before you leave," says Dr. René Molenkamp, senior fellow at the University of Maryland Burns Academy of Leadership. Make a detailed agenda and talk about expectations. "If everyone has an idea of what's going to happen each day of the trip, there will be fewer opportunities for conflict to arise."

Agree on a budget: "Issues of money are powerful sources of discord," points out Dr. Clark McCauley, professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College. "The more that can be made clear about what things will cost--from what types of restaurants you'll be eating in to where you plan on staying--the more successful the group will be."

Don't sleep on it: "If a problem arises, have everyone leave the room for 10 minutes to reflect on her own individual needs, and then return to discuss the problem," suggests Dr. Teresa Rose, who has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. "When the group reengages, have everyone use 'I' language instead of 'you' language, like 'I'm having a hard time' or 'I'd like to do a specific task' instead of 'You don't ever listen to me' or 'You're making my vacation miserable.' "

Speak, listen, repeat: Dr. Morton Kissen, professor of clinical psychology at Adelphi University, recommends using what he calls the speaker-listener technique. "Let one person speak for five minutes--about what she thinks and how she feels--while the others in the group listen. When the five minutes are over, someone else paraphrases what the first person said. This continues until everyone has had a chance to speak. The process resolves conflict by building empathy, while also strengthening the group's communication skills."

Do something together: If all else fails, squabbling groups should undertake a joint activity, such as preparing a meal. "It's the Thanksgiving Day Dinner Effect," says Dr. Donelson R. Forsyth, professor at the University of Richmond and the author of Group Dynamics. "Families often argue, but the power of the ritual feast of Thanksgiving, and its successful result, usually quells the discontent."

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