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Consultant, stay "in bounds!"

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies."    --  My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him) Photo by  Jennifer Pallian  on  Unsplash

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies." -- My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him) Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies." -- My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him)

A Painful Reminder

I recently was reminded of a football game I saw years ago. One team was ahead. They had the ball. There were only a few seconds left. The quarterback completed a pass into the "flats" to his running back. The running back didn't need to make a first down. He didn't nee to make any yards at all. The point simply was to run the clock so that the opposing team would have little or no time left to make a comeback. The game was ostensibly already won.  Or so, conventional wisdom would have said. 

The pass was a bit of a surprise. If it was dropped the clock would stop.  But it seemed to work. The pass was "on the mark," the running back caught the ball, no harm was done.  Still, if they had run the ball the clock would have run for sure. There would be no danger of an incompletion and the clock stopping. But by passing it, they caught the defense off guard and there was a chance of a first down which would have given them the opportunity to not give the ball back at all to the other team.  But if they ran the clock, and punted, the other team would have had time to try and win albeit by a very low probability "hail mary" from 80-plus yards away..

What happened next was a classic example  of "not having your head in the game."  The running back caught the ball and went out of bounds! What was he thinking?  Maybe trying to get that first down. Maybe thinking the game was over no matter what happened.  Who knows?  The results were devastating.  The clock stopped. The team punted-leaving more time on the clock then they would have if they had "played it safe" and run the ball.  The opposing quarterback had enough time to drive the ball down the field and kick the game-winning field goal. 

 

The Memory: Consultant Out of Bounds

What reminded me of this game?  Well, I heard a heart-breaking consulting story that is all too common.  An organization hired a consultant to help them raise money.  In the process of interviewing possible contributors the consultant (according to the opinion of my source) discovered other issues (no doubt interfering with the fund raising) in the organization. The consultant, evidently, with the support of the leadership team, switched from "fund raising expert" to organizational behavioral expert. The results, again in the opinion of my contact, was to catalogue the problems and deliver it in a final report--essentially, according to my source, dropping a "bomb shell" into the leadership by outlining the problems without a plan to resolve them and ending the consulting contract.

The result?  Strained relationships, demotivation, institutional stagnation, resignations . . . and a loss of time carrying out and growing the organization's mission.  It is an all too frequent story. Consultants need to know what they are good at doing and when to refer to other consultants. I have no doubt that the consultant was trying to help.  But as the story was told to me, he simply made mistakes that someone with an understanding of human systems would not typically make. (Incidentally, sometimes an organization's leadership, affects the same type of "bomb effect" when they have the right type of consultant but do not commit to follow through with implementing the plan . . . but that's a topic for another post).

 

It's About the Scope of Expertise

In my "Consulting with Larger Systems" graduate course, I asked students to consider this . . . if an organization hired me (a "people guy") and started asking me questions about accounting or legal issues . . . and if I tried to advise them on those matters . . . then I would undoubtably at some point make just as monumental of an error as this consultant. My point was that no one should take on a role that their expertise does not suit them to fill. To be blunt, this puts one in the position of making mistakes that even a new professionals in those specialty areas would catch.  It's not about a lack of value. Rather it is about education, training, and experience.

I used this to try and help these students understand the value they bring to organizations. As is often the case, these talented young people, who were gifted in understanding people, devalued their abilities. The relegate ease with which they applied their talents tended to obscure the fact that most do not have this ability in the same measure. They also tended--despite being doctoral students--to downplay their experience and the preparation the education, training, knowledge, and practice gave them for working within larger human systems.

So, iff you are a leader, hire consultants with expertise in the areas you need addressed and don't let scope creep change that focus. If the issues are within the human systems then do not hire consultants that are not experts in human systems and ask them to help you fix your people problems.  It's a shot in the dark. They may have no more competence than your supervisors, managers, and leaders in the organization.

Yes, trusting the consultant is important. However, just because you trust a "people person" -- you wouldn't ask them to provide legal consultation if they had only a casual relationship with legal studies. Yet, very often leaders do exactly that, they ask business experts, legal experts, marketing experts and others what they should do regarding their human behavioral issues--and the results are often ineffective or worse. 

And if you are a consultant,  with a specialty in some other area, find partners with complementary expertise, to whom you can refer, to help organizations reach their peak performance. To do other than this hurts everyone . . . including the profession of consulting.

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9 Common lies . . . Family Business Founders Tell Themselves

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9 Common lies . . . Family Business Founders Tell Themselves

1. Family members will appreciate the opportunities the family business provides.

2. We can keep the business separate from the family.

3. Our sacrifices demand loyalty . . . to the business.

4. I built it, they should follow my lead.

5. Lack of conflict is a sign the family is doing well.

6. Our family can avoid misunderstandings and hurt relationships.

7. Planning for succession means we don't need to think about "exit plans" or winding down the business.

8. You can't leave the family, but leaving the business is a simple process.

9. You don't tell yourself lies about the family business.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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Family Business: The family "code" and tips on creating a "code of conduct" policy.

Pirate ship? Photo by  Igor Ovsyannykov  on  Unsplash

Pirate ship? Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Family Business: The “family code" . . . and Tips on creating a "Code of Conduct" policy.

". . . the code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules." Captain Hector Barbossa, to Elizabeth Swann who tries to invoke the rules to her purposes. Pirates of the Caribbean

"So, what'll happen next?" I asked the daughter of the owners.

"Mom and Dad won't talk to us. There will be no invitations to their house. They won't come to a few of our kids events. They may not see it this way, maybe they just feel hurt, but it will feel like they're punishing us."

"How does it end?" I asked.

"Oh, after a couple of months they'll call about some issue. They'll pretend that nothing ever happened. But everyone knows it's just a matter of time till it happens again. It's a pattern. I guess it's 'just what we do.'"

This family has a code of conduct. It is unwritten, not “discussable,” but clearly set by patterns of interactions over years. It has not, at least yet, undermined the family itself, but has a powerful impact on the family, the interpersonal relationships, and also on the family business. Employees feel it. They know when the family is avoiding one another. They know what issues not to bring up.

Families have different styles of communication and approaches to conflict resolution. Most styles are stable--but not necessarily conducive to growth--a few styles are not stable or sustainable. These patterns of family communication and conflict management are, most often, instinctual and learned--not structured, planned or chosen. Families do what "feels right," carry on the patterns they experienced in their own families, or react against what they experienced--trying to do something different. The results are often mixed.

While most manage to "put things behind them" for the sake of the family  Few people are aware of the psychological reasons that influence their actions--yet, their family members may be keenly aware of the effects. Fear of rejection or failure? Nope. Afraid of isolation or lack of inclusion? No way. Unrealistic expectations or too much self-sacrificing? Not a problem. Ego tied up in being "in charge" and in control? No, just driven to succeed. But the effects are real and, again, they are often keenly felt within the family dynamics.

One small, proactive, step family businesses can take to minimize some of the risk to family members is to make expectations concrete. The process or discussing, writing, and adopting, a family "Code of Conduct" brings to surface the "best intentions" of the family, creates an "expected minimum" for family members, and establishes a structure for the family to return to when issues arise. It provides the extra benefits of modeling good leadership and can help you deal with difficult family members as well (not that you have any in your family!)

Why many will avoid creating a Family Code of Conduct.

One of the biggest hurdles to getting families to write a code of conduct is the belief that "things are fine the way they are." Maybe. But too often this "status quo option" is the view of one or two family members, not the thinking of family itself, nor in their best interests. It can be a denial of the "unwritten" code of conduct that already exists--"Everyone better do what Dad tells them to do," for example, and resistance to a transparent move toward change and growth.

A second reason it is avoided is the fear that it will surface some to the underlying tensions or problems in the family. Often there is an unspoken agreement to "let sleeping dogs lie"--fearing that approaching the issues will make things worse. Well, the truth is it can. Families with underlying tensions, often experience more tension, and even conflict in the short-term; some are even harmed in the process as they try to address issues on their own or even with consultants poorly prepared to use skills, training, resources, or knowledge to help the families successfully circumnavigate the potential dangers. 

However, for families that can effectively function, even through difficult and stressful circumstances, the discussion and adoption of written policies of family conduct is often very  helpful in promoting communication, decision making, and avoiding future conflict.

What should be included? That depends. The developmental stage of the family business will greatly impact what is addressed in this policy.

The needs of the "one controlling partnership" of a "Mom and Pop" just starting to incorporate their second generation into the business is dramatically different that the "cousin consortium" that encloses a complex group of families, owners, and business involvement within the family.

However a few key points are helpful to keep in mind.

First, you need to establish the purpose or goal of the policy. Why are we creating this? It should address a general philosophy of the family's view of the business and language about the importance of the family, the business, and the separation of work and family

Second, you need to establish who this policy is for and consequently what should be addressed. If you are staring to think about adding the kids to the business it might only need to address employment, professional development, loans, remuneration, and other basics.  If it is addressing a large complex family it might need to address the issues already noted but also expanded to address other topics such as the use of the family office, stock ownership, or many other issues as well.

Third, like it or not, the code of conduct has to address the issue of "what happens" if someone breaks the code. How will issues be addressed? Who will be included in trying to remedy any issues? Who will have the final "say" about actions taken?

Newer family businesses are less likely to feel the "need" for a written policy. However, by ignoring this, they only "kick the can down the road" and miss out on an opportunity to learn and grow, so that, later they have knowledge and experience to address more complex issues. So, don't delay! Protect your family proactively and don't fall victim to crisis planning at a time when the pressure will make it more difficult and potentially less successful.

 

Free eBook: Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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Family or Business? Ten Tips for Preserving the value of the family firm.

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The Chicken or the Egg?

If you are in a leadership position in a family firm then you face the dilemma of, “which comes first the family or the business?”  But,“Wait a minute! You can’t just arbitrarily separate the two.  It’s not as simple as just asking yourself, “Which comes first?”  Okay, you’re right.  This dichotomy is a distortion . . . that’s true. But not asking this question can lead some family owners to poor management practices such as management by fear, over-committing to work, and to the demise of the family.  Later, I’ll share 10 tips to help you preserve the value of your family business, a task that is indicative of understanding the integration of the family and business. . . . .

But first, consider this . . .  If I audited your business, which part would I find gets the most attention and resources--including cash--spent on it?  Which domain has the largest share of advisers?  I just recently attended a social for family businesses where one owner indicated that they were about to have their "first ever" family meeting to plan for the future. "First ever!" for a large on-going firm with multiple family generations working in it.  This, unfortunately, is the norm not the exception.

Now ask yourself, this, "Which part of the family-business world gives you the most worries? " Are the biggest worries the business decisions you face? Or, are the biggest concerns for the family and the impact the business will have, good or bad, on the individual members and the family relationships? Family-based businesses that thrive find ways to preserve the value of both the family (including ownership) and the business. 

But many family leaders don’t pay adequate attention to the family dynamics and as a result the family suffers from unresolved conflict, damaged relationships, or all out family war.

I have seen it happen in so many ways . . .

  • brothers who can’t get along, each trying to one-up each other and prove their value to the firm; 
  • sons who feel entitled to taking over the firm and having a guaranteed career only to have that taken away (and then regretting not pursuing other careers;
  • daughters who can’t move on due to the loyalty and needs of the parents;
  • in-laws at conflict with their spouse’s family, each suffers from the grind of working, playing, and fighting together on a daily basis;
  • parents who have given control over to partners to hold for their minor children only to find the partners and children at war over control of the company;
  • husbands and wives at odds over a looming family crisis and how it should be handled. 

No mixing family and business is not easy. The very closeness and complex relationships that can be its strongest asset make family firms much more emotional environments than traditional organizations.

Still, family businesses are the most common type of businesses world wide. Many labor toward common goals, dealing with the family baggage well enough to survive . . . but living in the heightened emotional crucible of family-business tension. Others face transitional points (children entering the business or passing the baton) but have no road map for how to successfully deal with that transition. Yet many family firm leaders will tell me that the family is the business’s greatest asset.

Preserving the Family Business

So how do you preserve the value of the family business?  By taking the task of growing the “family assets” as seriously as you value the “business assets” of the company.  Here are ten ideas on how do accomplish it:

  1. Develop a family constitution, mission statement, white paper, or some other guiding document for your family.  When my Dad died a few years ago (after working in one organization for fifty-one years!) I found a list of goals he had set for himself early on in his career.  It was remarkable how many of those goals had been met!  We shared it with the President ofthe organization and he shared it at the funeral. It was interesting to me that not all of the goals were business goals, some were personal goals and others familial. It became clear how he had stayed in a leadership position for over five decades…
  2. Have regularly scheduled times (family board meetings) to focus on the family aspects of the family business.
  3. Develop a strategic plan for the families’ growth.
  4. Deal with baggage that is threatening the family and/or business quickly.
  5. Identify and use family advisers.  No not your accountant, lawyer, or banker. I’m sure they are all competent professionals.  But there competence lies in accounting, the law, and banking.  Not families. Look for a family therapist (who understands business), a family-firm consultant, or another type of mental health professional.
  6. Develop a clear understanding of the risks associated with each developmental stage of the family business.
  7. Create a family “balance sheet” of the pros and cons of the family-business interaction and examine in annually.
  8. Find ways to clearly distinguish “family time” from “work time.”
  9. Proactively market the family business to family members.
  10. Demonstrate the ability to be transparent, vulnerable, and forgiving.

If you own or work in/with a family based business, what has been the single best thing you have done to preserve the value of the family business?

For more on preserving your family business, enter your email and download our free eBook, or if you'd prefer, purchase it at Gumroad.

 

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Family Business Infographic

Family Business Infographic

Are you a family business owner or family member? Maybe just curious about family firms? Or maybe you work with these complex systems . . . check out our infographic on family firms!

Family Legacy Ebook

Feel free to also get a copy of our eBook: Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business. You can purchase it at Gumroad or get it free when you subscribe to our email list. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time and your email will never be shared.

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Prairie Family Business Association Social

We are members of the Prairie Family Business Association (PFBA) and we are helping to host a Members and Potential Members Social in Omaha on September 7th, 2017 from 4-6 pm. So come check out all that the PFBA offers, meet some other FB owners, and enjoy some refreshments. 

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If you have read the infographic (above) or other information on family businesses you will know why we as a family firm promote and encourage others in the Midwest to check out the PFBA.

You can also check out the PFBA article about . . . Us!

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Have a great week and I hope to meet some of you on September 7th!

Bryan

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Parents and Kids: Don't make it easy! Especially if you own your own business.

A knife, the right one, can be a useful tool.  Photo Credit: Juan Jose Alonso at Unsplash.

Warren Buffet, the "Oracle of Omaha," has started giving away his wealth . . . and it's not to his kids. He gets it.

 

I needed to run into the "big box store" for one thing. My son, courageously, volunteered to stay behind an take care of our dog. "Courageously" I say because I knew what was on his mind. The same thing that had been on his mind for the last week or more. The knife. "Maybe you could stop and look at the knife?" he cautiously asked . . . . I steeled myself, knowing this was not the time to be generous and give in. It was too important . . . for my son.

Recently, my 11 year old set his sights on buying a knife. His hope, a big-bowie knife. Now, some of you might be thinking . . . uh, no! Given the immature nature of many young boys, the culture of as presented in the main-stream media, parental anxieties, and the potential for "unintended outcomes" we, of course, worked to establish a more reasonable alternative.

That does not mean, in this instance, that our automatic answer is, "No knife." Since we have a very active average--complete with chicken coop, high tunnel, three garden spots and all the accompanying minutia of hey bales, tractors, tomato cages and the like--a knife is a practical tool that a "chore=laden" (at least in his eyes) boy could find useful. Not to mention his parents. Besides, we live in the heart of the farming community where 14 years olds drive farm equipment and help with the harvest. Really. It's not that weird for youngsters to carry a knife, at least, around the farm. (I have had to tell a few young lads that they cannot bring them to social events to show their friends however.)

So, yes, the knife is still in discussion. After all, this isn't my first time around at this. We have six children (four of which are boys) and I regularly counted on the other boys help in working around "the place." "Hey, do you have your knife on you?" was  not an uncommon question, especially,  if I didn't have mine on me at the time.

But, the discussion about the knife is always about responsibility. "Do you think you are old enough to be responsible with a knife?" I'll ask, putting the necessity of this requirement to their mind. This youngster, in my assessment, is on the verge of consistently acting responsible enough . . . but not quite. So, I had a talk with him about his lack of consistency--giving his mother a hard time about chores, being upset that she didn't buy him the knife when he expected it, his general attitude and treatment of others.

"I can't give a knife to someone until I know they are going to be responsible," I told him. "i see you becoming more and more responsible but you need to do it in all areas if you want to be trusted with something like a knife.  Your mother and I look forward to when you are responsible enough to have a tool like a knife." I concluded.

I was practicing the age old rule of "not making it easy." It's advice I give to parents in general and especially to parents who have done well--many who own family businesses. Oh I know the sad truth that there are parents out there that are mean, withholding, even abusive to their children--those parents need a different rule called "be kind"--but I think the majority are more in danger of wanting to do too much for our children. Thus, we rob them of learning early on how to handle disappointment, frustration, and to reinforce the satisfaction of turning their hard work, and patience into meeting their needs and wants.

This does not preclude another of my parent rules, "Say 'Yes" as much as you can." You see, as I said earlier, our answer is NOT just "No." In fact, the answer to the knife is "Yes, when you're ready." The same foes for getting a car in a few short years. When you are mature enough, have earned the money to pay for it, and grateful for the privilege of owning it.

Parents who are owners of their own businesses run into an even greater danger of making it too easy. Saying "Here, son/daughter, "here are some opportunities, assets, cash, etc." may make good business sense. it may help pass down your assets, make create tax write-offs, and may just tempt you to want to be kind to your children. But, just like staking a tree too soon for fear that it will break, staking it before it has strengthened itself against the wind and other elements, only weakens it and makes it likely to fail when it is grown and it's weakened condition is overcome by the weight and stresses placed on it as an "adult."  Like the tree, these "coddled," advantaged, children may not develop the internal strength to weather the storms of life.

"I'll look at it," I responded to my son, "But don't expect me to be coming back with it," I warned. "I know," he said. I watched as determination and courage followed the initial disappointment. Inwardly, I winced, my heart grieving for the kid and the disappointment he felt. My thoughts moving to the pride I felt however  in seeing him work to be the mature young man he can be, and reminiscing about the joy of watching my other boys become men.

The funny thing, which I knew would happen (remember it's not my first "rodeo"), is that his general mood has been better. Saying "no, for now" has actually released him of the pent-up pressure of "wanting."  He's more pleasant, more helpful, just happier. The good thing is, it's no longer just about trying to manipulate me into getting the knife either. It's real. That afternoon, he voluntarily, sauntered out and helped me replace the wheel on his sister's car and he enjoyed helping. It's progress.

I'm still going to try and talk him into a more reasonable knife--not one that is "flashy" and "mammoth" into one that will be more useful. But the type of knife is not the biggest concern. No, my danger, as a parent is . . . I'm already wondering--now that he showed some mature fortitude--how soon I can take him to buy a knife. Yes, I'm my own worst enemy. I may have to "practice what I preach" and exercise a little frustration tolerance.

Get our free eBook: Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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Estranged family member? Tips for reclamation . . . or preventing family erosion.

Oiler Rahman: Unsplash

Oiler Rahman: Unsplash

He got right to the point. "Everyone has already 'lawyered-up' and no one, but me, has talked to my older brother in over four years." The brother had called me at the recommendation of his counselor. "I feel like this has torn the family apart. Once this is over, I don't know if any of us will ever see him again."  It was a story I'd heard before and a story that is far too common. The comment was made by a man who was facing a legal fight with his siblings over the family business assets and fearing that the separation with his older brother would become a permanent chasm within the family.

So, it got me to thinking, what tips would I give to families with an estranged family member after more than 25 years of working with families? What works? What doesn't work? What are some of the common mistakes? No that's too much. How about just some basic tips. Yes, that might be helpful . . . more  on those tips in a moment . . . .

There are few things more painful than being estranged from family members. Families in business are certainly not immune--and may even be at higher risk--due to the proximity and engagement often demanded in a family business.

Once a separation begins, it can be very hard to mend the family "fabric" or even to stop the expansion of the separation that can threaten the integrity of the family and perhaps the business.

Who do family members call when they recognize a weakness or rip has started? Generally, no one. In my experience, efforts will be undertaken by the family itself without any outside help . . . if they do seek help it often is not until the pain of the problems get worse--much worse. Generally the divisions go back 5-7 years (or more) before help is sought. It is at that point, often when the family, business, or both, are facing a crisis that family members begin to talk to their advisors.

Who do they talk too?  Whom ever they trust. Often friends, lawyers, accountants, bankers, business consultants . . . But . . . if the problem is really a family issue, who should they talk to? Probably someone with extensive experience with family systems. Unfortunately, that generally means going to "see a shrink" but many won't go because "they''re not crazy" and sadly, if they do go, many mental health professionals will treat this like any other referral for depression, anxiety, etc. It's not their faulty, it's what the medical model has encouraged and the insurance companies will allow.

What I mean by the "medical model" and "insurance" comments is that what families need (extensive interviewing, development of a plan of action, perhaps a family retreat or other "non-medical" interventions) are not part of the typical outpatient practice nor are they items that can be billed to insurance. Therefore, few professionals are aware of, or have any experience with, helping extended family systems--particularly with the complexities of a family in business together.

So, given the fact that most will not seek help until the problem has reached a crisis, and even then, many do not get adequate help . . . let's offer a few tips for family members based on 25-plus years of working with families . . . 

1. You can't force someone-even a relative-to have a relationship with you. You can make it easier or harder for them to connect with you, get through difficult periods, or take the risk of reconnecting after a loss of trust..

2. Okay, in some cases you can force people. But it's not a sign of a healthy or sustainable relationship. This forced relationship is called by many names . . . control, domestic violence, or abuse. Once the person finds the courage to escape from this forced relationship they are not likely to willingly return. (However, this leaving may take years and repeated approximations of leaving before a final "break.")

3. The core problem that leads to a separation is typically between two people. It can of course spread to become an "all out war"--think of the Hatfields and McCoys. Keep it, to the best of your ability, between the two people. We call this being a "good bystander" to conflict. Hold each person accountable for their actions. Don't take sides. Refuse to be drawn into the "blame game." See the problem as a problem not as a defect in one or the other.

4. What I mean in #3 is that if you see the conflict in terms of "right and wrong" or "what is fair or just" then you will probably turn the problem into a family war not a problem between two people. After all, most of us want to protect the injured party and hold the perpetrator accountable. But unless there is a clear incident(s) where one party is responsible for the harm it often is a situation of "two different stories" about the events that have led to the problem. Be sure one party is responsible. Don't be quick to take a side. Always operate based on what you have observed not what you are told.

5. Although the best default is a neutral stance, there are times real issues (anger, alcoholism, abuse) are at the core of the problems. If this is the case--and you have personally experienced this--then tell it "like it is." Tell the person that you see these problems and hope that they will address them if they really want things to improve. Don't blame your opinion on the other party--none of this "you know they have a point." Own it as your own observation. You may get cut off but things don't improve if these behaviors are enabled. Have the courage to "do the right thing" gently even if it means you lose the relationship.

6. True or not. Healing begins with individuals taking as much accountability as possible for their own part in the conflict. Along the lines of: "While I wasn't trying to be disrespectful. Maybe my actions, when seen from your viewpoint, were, in fact, disrespectful." But it myst be authentic. If the party is not trying to see their part in the problem and focused on addressing that . . . then they are likely simply trying a gambit to move past the conflict while still blaming the other person. It rarely works. The other person may be fooled temporarily but we are really good generally at seeing the trends over time and the truth will leak out.

7. Rebuilding trust takes time . . . often, a long time . . . and you typically only get one chance. Don't blow it. I am often surprised by people who tell me that rebuilding the relationship is "the most important thing they want" and then I watch as they allow their frustration and anger to prevent any progress. They demand immediate reclamation of the relationship. They blame the other for not being willing to take risks on their preferred schedule. Often it's fear. The thinking often is, "If I don't make it happen now then it will never happen!". The hard thing is, they may be right. I ask them if the real goal is to "hang a plaque" saying "I tried everything I could but they wouldn't let me in!" or to increase the probability of having a relationship. Despite what they say, their actions will tell the story of what they really want. Think of this time as a "temporary sabbatical" and focus on "leaving the door cracked open" so a reunion is possible.

8. Finally, choose your advisors carefully! Make sure they have the expertise to help with family issues.  I just have to say a word about any advisors/mediators you use to help you in this reclamation project. They need to understand human systems at a deep level. Many, sadly, reenforce the blame game and may be unwilling or unaware of addressing deeper issues that keep the parties stuck. They need to be absolutely committed to the possibility of reconciliation but humble enough to know that even they cannot control the parties in the conflict--or guarantee the outcome of those parties.  If parties refuse to reconcile, the expert can help confirm and clarify the consequences of the choice and guide family members to keep this decision from turning the family life into a "world war." This may. at times, allow other family members the right to make a different choice. "I know you don't want to see our older/younger brother but I am not going to cut either of you out of my life." and help the family accept each person's right to choose.

The caller sounded hopeless about changing the siblings minds on going to court. He acknowledged that they should have done something "four years ago" and they might have avoided this estrangement. The end of the call came when the brother noted, "I'll talk to my other siblings, and call you back if we can do something, but I think it's gone too far to turn back." He went on to say that the court date had been set and he couldn't see them backing down to try something else at this point. When I contacted him later--not having heard back from him--it turned out that he was right. No one saw a way to "restart" the process and avoid court. 

Sadly, re-engagement with the family, in this case, may take a very long time; it is possible-maybe even likely-that it doesn't happen at all. I hope they are fortunate enough to het another chance. So, if you are facing threats to the family act now. Engage the problems. The old adage "the best defense is a good offense" applies. The best way to repair broken relationships in the family is to not let them get broken in the first place. But if they do, these tips can help maximize the opportunity to reconnect.

 

If you are a member of a family business, or interested in family business issues, feel free to download our free eBook: Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

Family Legacy: Protecting the family in business. Free eBook.

Family Legacy: Protecting the family in business. Free eBook.

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