September 27, 2020 in Uncategorized

Getting Ahead of Family Conflict

by David Gould

Getting Ahead of Family Conflict – Communication and the Art of Difficult Negotiations

In the Bailey Family story, we explored what can happen when conflict takes over in a family.  The siblings’ school yard conflicts resulted in a refusal to communicate that almost destroyed the family and the family business.

When wealth transition is not planned successfully, it can trap a family in conflict and send them into a financial and emotional crisis. A key part of every conflict is a breakdown in communication.

This breakdown often shows up as a difficult conversation when you have something important to discuss, but you can’t decide how to approach it. It just never seems to be the right time or family members don’t seem willing to engage. When these important conversations are ignored, it can lead to conflict and even tear a family apart.

Family Stories and Rumi’s Field

Let’s begin with a simple premise. All conflict exists in our stories of the past about what happened to us and what we made it mean.

Almost nowhere in life do we have more stories than in our families. Naturally, we believe in our own story and often assume we know our family members’ stories too. When the need to discuss business and wealth transition arises, this assumption alone can prevent us from engaging in proper communication with them. Without on open dialogue and the sharing of stories for understanding, these discussions quickly breakdown and fixate on fault and blame of the past.

The 13th century poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

When family conversations find this field, they simply work better.

Six Steps to prepare for Difficult Family Negotiations

Here are six steps to help you prepare to have difficult negotiations with family and how to get them to join you in Rumi’s field.

  • Recognize that you have a difficult conversation with the potential for conflict as early as possible. Choose to deal with it and to prepare to be successful with your family member(s).  If your issue is important avoiding it to keep the peace is a bad tactic.
  • Explore your own story to separate what actually happened – the facts – from what you made the facts mean. Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side write down the facts – the events exactly as they occurred. On the right side write down your meanings. These are your interpretations, judgements, and assumptions about those facts.
  • Take another sheet of paper with a line down the middle. Make your best guess as to how your family member(s) see the facts and what they make those facts mean. Put yourself in their shoes and be as honest and objective as possible.
  • Put the two sheets of paper side by side and identify where the facts and meanings are in conflict. I think you will find that many of your conflicts are on the meaning side.

Identify what interests and needs are really most important to both sides. These interests and needs are the building blocks of your future resolution. Consider what you might do independently and in collaboration with the other party to clarify any factual conflicts and clear up misunderstandings. Agreeing on facts or a plan to establish the facts can be an excellent basis for productive negotiations.

  • As you do this work acknowledge your emotions but do not let them control you. It is these strong emotions triggered by our story of the past and what happened to us that traps us in conflict.
  •  It is now time to approach the other side for this important conversation. This is an invitation, not a demand.  Both sides are invited to be part of a dialogue about the future and what’s possible. This is not a debate about the past and fault and blame. Here are some hints about how to get the other person to engage:
  • Share what you have done to prepare and why you think this conversation matters to you and them.
  • Share your commitment to focus on the future and what is possible and not stay stuck in the past.
  • Share your understanding of what your preparation taught you about what was most important to them.  Commit to listen to them as they confirm and clarify their story. Seek first to understand.
  • Acknowledge the emotions as they arise and just as they are. Let them know you understand the impacts on them and share the impacts on you.
  • It takes commitment to stay in the conversation when things get hard. It is okay to take a break and let things cool down but re engage as soon as you can.

For some difficult negotiations you may feel you need some help with your preparation. Look to your professional advisors, your business coach, your accountant, your lawyer, or your financial planner. They are generally committed to your future and often willing to help with your preparations. Remember you want their objective insights not just their agreement with your story.

Finally, your family wealth transition may need a professional intervention. You can consider engaging a mediator to work with you to design and facilitate an effective intervention.

For more information about these Steps or assistance with difficult negotiations contact:


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