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The holidays can be stressful, even under the best circumstances. I recently received a question from a reader about the best way to navigate family over the holidays when the topic turns to your career.

There are a few different scenarios that may cause your relatives to ask questions during your next holiday gathering.

  1. You just got a new job
  2. You received a promotion at your current job
  3. You’ve left your job to start a business
  4. You’ve left your job to go to graduate school
  5. You were fired from your job
  6. Your company just had a massive layoff that impacted you and you are now unemployed
  7. Your company just had a massive layoff that did not cause you to lose your job, but has still impacted you indirectly
  8. Your company has been in the news for something negative
  9. Someone in your family needs a job and they’re hoping you’ll hire them

These situations all have the potential to be awkward for one reason or another.

For example, one family member may know more than others. You might not have shared with others because you don’t want them to know all the detail, or because you haven’t had time. Either way, it could cause those in the dark to be offended if the family member who knows brings the topic up.

Sometimes, family members try to ask you questions about your workplace that are considered confidential, or that you’d rather not share.

Other times, they may ask you things that are highly personal. One such question is, “Why were you fired from your job? What happened?”

Another is about a new job. It’s a little nuts to think about, but some family members will actually ask you how much money you’re making at your new job. Isn’t that just crazy?

There’s one thing that all of these examples have in common. They are full of people who aren’t respecting your boundaries.

It may not be on purpose, and may be with good intensions. But, these family members are crossing lines they shouldn’t be crossing. The question really becomes, how do you deal with them effectively?

At the end of the day, you want to handle things in the best way possible. Here are a few tips to help you to survive the holidays when your career is in flux.

  1. Limit your visit – If things seems like they’re going to be stressful, limit the amount of time you’ll be spending with family. Communicate your arrival and departure dates in advance, so there are no surprises.
  2. Consider staying in a hotel – It may sound strange, but one of the best ways you can manage holiday stress is by staying at a hotel when you travel. Although staying with family is less expensive financially, it can also increase your stress level when you can’t get away. Having a hotel to escape to can help to reduce stress and improve your sleep while traveling.
  3. Do your homework – If there’s certain information you don’t want everyone to know, but one relative does already know, consider calling that person ahead of time. It will give you a chance to communicate in advance and keep any accidental slips from happening.
  4. Try not to take things personally – Realize that there’s a good chance your relatives are asking you about your job because it’s the only thing they know about that’s going on in your life right now. They could be trying to make conversation, but don’t know what else to ask about.
  5. Set boundaries – Don’t be afraid to tell someone, “I’m really not comfortable to talk about that right now.” Or, “I’d love to talk about this with you – another time.” At the end of the day, your story is yours and yours alone. If you don’t feel comfortable answering questions, you don’t have to.
  6. Create a diversion – Quickly change the subject from your career to some other, more neutral topic. Travel, sports, and food are all safe bets.
  7. Keep your drinking to a minimum – This is always a good idea. But, really – how many times have you heard a story about crazy drama that starts with drinking? Pretty often, right? If you know you’re going to be in a potentially challenging situation, protect yourself by keeping your drinking in check.

Before I end this week’s newsletter, I’d like to revisit the idea of salary. Sometimes, relatives can really go too far. If someone were to ask you how much you make at your new job, you could consider something simple like, “I’m not comfortable to share that.” Or, you could be a little more subtle and say something like, “It’s such a great opportunity. I’m really happy how everything turned out.” Or, “They gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.” There’s really no right answer to this question. At the end of the day, if someone asks you how much you make, they have crossed a boundary. It’s absolutely acceptable not to answer, or to answer in any way that you’d like to.

Remember, your story is yours. You own it; you control it. You don’t have to share anything you don’t want to. And, chances are good that at least one relative is going to cross a boundary. You can’t change them, but you can certainly choose what to share. And, you can prepare yourself in advance.

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