Your extended family is, on the whole, colorful and fun.  At holiday get-togethers, you enjoy Uncle Bob’s fishing stories, Cousin Kathy’s tales of office intrigue, and Grandpa Tony’s reminiscences. But then there’s that one person — the one who could be counted on to tell the racist joke, dominate the conversation with a made-for-cable political screed, or otherwise create an environment in which everybody stares at the floor and longs to drop through it.

How can you keep your cool during these difficult moments — and just how might you talk to your family member concerning the discomfort he or she creates? Psychologist and coach Amy Johnson, PhD, has some timely advice for handling a difficult relative.

  1. Don’t take it personally. “In family settings, individuals are particularly prone to personalize disagreements along with other problems,” says Johnson. Keep in mind that, though the problematic person is really bothering you, he or she is probably not actually planning to spoil your holiday.
  2. Have an amiable talk. Johnson suggests sitting down for a one-to-one talk with the person you’re in conflict with to address the behavior that’s getting beneath your skin. “It probably should be in a place and at a time that’s taken off family functions and other members of the family — don’t gang up on Uncle Bill — and you ought to do your utmost to make Uncle Bill feel comfortable and appreciated.” Buttering him track of praise to prepare him for that occasion isn’t the point, however — he’ll look out of it. Just project kindness and love in your tone and demeanor.
  3. Address behavior, not character. In speaking with Uncle Bill, says Johnson, the key thing is to let him know that you are bothered by specific behaviors — you’re not judging his character or opinions: “Whenever you tell those kinds of jokes, Personally i think uncomfortable,” or “Sometimes you kind of take charge of the conversation in a way that makes it hard for me to express myself.”
  4. Address only your own discomfort. Rather than condemning a person’s behavior as abstractly bad or wrong, or bringing in the rest of the family as backup (“Everyone else agrees with me”), focus entirely on the fact that it makes you uncomfortable, suggests Johnson.
  5. Remember his or her good qualities. No matter how difficult certain aspects of the person’s behavior can be, he or she comes with a full battery of human traits, including some great ones. Keeping these in your mind, Johnson says, can help help make your quiet talk with the person easier on of you — and keep you calmer if the behavior doesn’t change.
  6. Accept your powerlessness. “For those who have a talk with the person, make sure to allow her to make the response that they makes,” Johnson says. You don’t have the power to make her change her behavior, or to agree with you. She might be offended, and that, too, is her business. “The important thing for your peace of mind is that you have told your truth. Having done that, let go.”
  7. Embrace family differences. “There are as many different visions of reality in a family as there are people,” says Johnson. The fact that not everyone agrees with you about Cousin Sarah’s behavior and what to do about it shouldn’t prevent you from stating your truth, however it shouldn’t make you sore at your relatives either.
  8. Get outside support. “There’s a certain magic in family gatherings that puts you back into familiar roles — caretaker, the responsible one, whatever — with all the discomfort that may come along with them,” says Johnson. “When confronted with any uncomfortable situation in a family gathering, it’s smart to have available, by phone or some other way, a buddy who knows and supports the person you are now.”
  9. Be of service. Ultimately, you have the option of removing yourself in the living room when Cousin Al gets going — and one of the best ways to do that is to offer to help. Do the dishes, run errands, take care of kids, or help with the cooking.