Let’s get real: holidays are a ripe time for disagreements, office drama, and hurt feelings because we oftentimes are socializing with people with whom we don’t normally socialize.  This can be co-workers at holiday parties, neighbors at school events, or out-of-state relatives who are visiting.  Here are five Neversays for the holidays.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, etc.

Why?  Wishing someone a Merry Christmas, for instance,  suggests that there is only one holiday, or rather, one “right” holiday.  It ignores religious and cultural diversity.  It also opens the door for improper assumptions about people (for instance, two of my sons’ schools asked me to lead the Kwanzaa celebration although we didn’t celebrate Kwanzaa).

Exception: If you are 100% sure that a person celebrates a particular holiday, then it is acceptable to reference it and wish them well.

Say instead: Happy Holidays.  Have a great vacation.  Enjoy your time.

People Need to Put Christ back in Christmas

Why?  Again, this assumes the holiday season – and even Christmas itself – should be religiously focused.  It elevates one religion over others.  And there are many people who celebrate the Christmas holiday who are not church-goers or religiously oriented.

Say instead:  Nothing.  Just don’t say this.

At an Office Christmas Party

You look hot!  You need to dress more like this at work!

Why:  These comments put the focus on personal appearance in a sexualized way.  It can be received as a romantic overture, which poses problems for the speaker and the company.  It can also be viewed as marginalizing the talents and intellect of the receiver – as the focus becomes on attractiveness as opposed to merits.

Say instead:  So good to see you!  It’s great to spend some time with you outside of work.

I am so drunk!  I am so high!  I am buzzing!

Why:  The workplace is the workplace – even when it shifts for a night to a hotel ballroom, bar or other venue for a holiday party.  Saying you are “drunk” or “high” at work is never appropriate.  Professionalism requires decorum, and that is lost when under the influence.  Additionally, you increase the risk of inappropriate behavior beyond the mere statement itself.

Say instead:  I am having so much fun!  This is a great party!

To Someone Who is Grieving or looks down

 Smile, it’s the holidays!

Why: Holidays are not happy for everyone.  For some, who are grieving the loss of a loved one or the absence of family they can be a time that is difficult.  For others, the holidays can be a reminder of what they don’t have – either financially, romantically or with family.  Suggesting these people just “smile” and get over it is insensitive and diminishes their feelings and situations.


Say instead:  Are you okay?  I know this time of year can be hard sometimes.  I am here for you.

How can I help?

During the holidays, you should communicate as you do all days: be empathetic, be considerate, be respectful, and be aware of your purpose, audience and environment.

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