As we discussed in the first two articles, better communication leads to healthier family dynamics, especially when it comes to matters of finance. Whether you’re new to the practice or looking for ways to improve upon it, here are our top eight tips on how to hold a successful family meeting.
1. Prepare the family ahead of time
Along with the agenda, it’s a good idea to get the family prepared ahead of the meeting (or get a moderator to do it). Not only will it help you find out where their headspace is and give you some learning, it will also help them understand what will be covered. Remember, everyone has their own set of ideas as to how the meeting will play out, but if a narrative is provided that takes away all of the guesswork so everyone is on the same page going in.
2. Manage expectations
Because everyone has expectations, it’s very important to identify them so you can manage them. Most conflict emerges from unmet expectations, so as you’re going through the process, get them out and talk about them so there are no surprises. Don’t forget, every decision that your family makes will have an impact on each and every member.
3. Be flexible on time
Many family topics take longer than you might think, but that means people are engaged. Focus on the family discussion and let go of having to get the technical details on a rigid schedule. On that note, it’s important to let everyone talk and acknowledge multiple points of view. These differences can be productive and help everyone feel as though they have a voice – just try to keep conflicts as manageable as possible. Initial reactions, old resentments, strange questions and unplanned tangents can all come up to the surface in family meetings. With good ground rules, eventually everyone will be heard and you will get to what needs to be discussed.
4. Appoint the right people (or bring in an advisor)
Not everyone is skilled at facilitating family discussions so elect a leader who knows how to handle the group process. It should be someone who has the right skillset but it also doesn’t necessarily have to be a family member. In fact, if choosing one causes conflict between family members, it might be a good idea to bring in an advisor or expert when needed. You may get more attention and cooperation from everyone as well as benefit from the facilitator’s expertise and wisdom.
5. Listen to each other
Focus on understanding the other person’s point of view and acknowledging it (without interrupting) before expressing your own, even if you don’t agree. Remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion and they all deserve respect. A good rule of thumb is to be tough on the problem, but gentle on the people – look for win-win solutions, instead of blaming and shaming.
6. Speak for yourself
Keep your expectations, preferences and views on yourself without roping anyone else in (even if you know certain family members feel the same way you do). You want to avoid holding anyone else responsible for your reaction or interpretation of the situation. Don’t assume anything, check out your assumptions by asking questions and be prepared to accept the response, even if it’s different than what you have assumed.
7. Own your emotions
There’s a good chance things will get heated at certain points in the meeting (you are family after all). Just understand that how you feel about something is your own decision – others don’t “make” you feel any particular way. And do your best to control your anger if things amp up. If you can speak about your underlying feelings, rather than getting angry, there’s a better chance that everyone will listen to what you have to say.
8. Appreciate what you each bring to the table
Everyone is different and you all bring your own something special to the family dynamic. Acknowledge and take pride in each other’s accomplishments because when one succeeds it builds the strength of the whole family. It’s also a good idea to recognize and celebrate what you have in common and take the time to appreciate the gifts you’ve been given as part of the family.
When it comes down to it, family meetings are a wonderful way to give everyone a voice and bring peace of mind to important financial matters for all involved. Read articles, speak to advisors, listen to other people who have conducted family meetings successfully to figure out how to have these conversations. Above all else, remember to respect each other through the process and then you really can’t go wrong.
BMO Private Wealth would like to gratefully thank Ruth Steverlynck of Your Family Enterprise Advisors for her efforts in preparing this handbook, and for her many contributions to our industry and the families we serve. We would also like to thank Jim Grubman of Cambridge Family Enterprise Group and Thayer Willis of Willis Management for sharing their tips on hosting effective family meetings, and Dennis Jaffe for his work supporting families of wealth as they navigate effective transition.
Information contained in this publication is based on sources such as issuer reports, statistical services and industry communications, which we believe are reliable but are not represented as accurate or complete. Opinions expressed in this publication are current opinions only and are subject to change. BMO Private Wealth accepts no liability whatsoever for any loss arising from any use of this commentary or its contents. The information, opinions, estimates, projections and other materials contained herein are not to be construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation for or an offer to buy, any products or services referenced herein (including, without limitation, any commodities, securities or other financial instruments), nor shall such information, opinions, estimates, projections and other materials be considered as investment advice, tax advice, a recommendation to enter into any transaction or an assurance or guarantee as to the expected results of any transaction.
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