I’m not the sharpest mind on the block, but I can notice repeated patterns if given a fair shake. And the “shake” of budgets and schedules during this time of the year—whether seasonal, relational, or occupational—has shown me something about my own relationships and leadership in times of intense details. Let me explain.
Here’s what I’ve noticed. In December, things clamp up. And I don’t mean just financially. Logistically as well. We’re usually running on less time and less money in month #12, but a good bit more of both are generally expected in the holidays. This squeeze usually means we feel a tightening effect on our calendars and wallets. So we clamp up (or down) a bit. Maybe a lot.
Add to that this fact about December: things ramp up, too! The next year is just around the corner, so people are trying to nail down all kinds of things, from next year’s schedules to next year’s deductions to next year’s plans. Seems as though everybody wants a decision yesterday about tomorrow (figure that one out). In other words, more than any other month, December seems all about details. Christmas lists. Family exchanges. Office parties. Secret Santas. Shopping lists. Department budgets. Decorating demands. Travel needs. Future particulars. Business reports. Year-end evaluations. See what I mean? December is like a major merger of the year’s details.
Here’s the rub. Those details can cramp up our various relationships. And since we don’t normally deal with that many details in such a compressed amount of time (every month isn’t like December), we aren’t especially experienced at handling it. We respond too quickly, speak too harshly, ask too insultingly, or decide too rashly. What suffers? Not the details. Instead, the relationships. December’s details can take their toll no doubt.
Not to beat this drum too much, but I’ve seen this happen personally more than I want to admit. My wife and I will be working through a “holiday issue” when, suddenly, a simple difference of opinion about a small thing (what to get a relative, where to put a decoration, etc.) shuts down the whole conversation. Or I’m hammering out financial facts for the upcoming year with our leadership team and, almost without warning, tensions thicken and people start taking sides.
At the root of this relational holiday hemorrhaging, at least in my opinion, is the selfish need to control and manipulate the final elements of the current year. Sure, this is a constant problem in humans, but I think we all want to “finish on top,” so for some reason division seems to be heightened in December. It’s like we think the party ends December 31 and we have to have the silver slipper when the clock strikes midnight.
A simple tip has helped me this year: Look to contribute, not control. So I ask questions that center on how I can help, not on why I think my every detail is being hindered. If I have to my way in every decision or situation in which I am involved, I shouldn’t be surprised if people start pulling away from me relationally, leaving me out of the process altogether. If I have to always share my opinion and “be heard,” I’ll probably find myself with no one to talk to at some point. If, as the year draws to a close, I have to make a “last stand” every time I turn around, I’ll probably end up feeling like Custer at Little Big Horn.
I’m not suggesting you become spineless, never expressing strong opinions. But do it in a way—and at a time—when it isn’t relational suicide.
Bottom line? Christmas is the best time to go into your conversations and encounters knowing that, for whatever reason, people are just a little more “clamped” and “ramped.” So speak and act in ways that relieve relational “cramps.” Think twice before you correct a technicality. Count to a million before you demand uniformity. Wait one more minute before developing an assumption. In light of December’s details, you—and others around you—will be glad you did.