Family forums: Building better family relationships through better communication and decision-making
Sometimes, a family needs someone to help navigate a situation that would otherwise be too fraught with emotion to untangle.
They need a trusted advisor and a safe space where in they can share their concerns or conflicts amongst family members. You could call this conflict resolution, but sometimes people don’t perceive they’re in an actual conflict because they’re not even communicating. It’s really about bridge building.
In 2016, Campden Wealth and Morgan Stanley wealth management released a study asking ultra-high net worth individuals to answer questions about family decision-making. They summarized their conclusions by writing: “Encouragingly, and contrary to some thinking, our study finds that decision-making is proving to be a catalyst for better family relationships.” The authors noted that the outcome was “most certainly due” to the presence of governance and decision-making structures which eased smooth decision-making and minimized conflict.
Source: Family Decision Making, Campden Wealth & Morgan Stanley (2016)
“A lot of people want simplicity. They want to have someone in their corner looking out for them and helping them maximize their chances of success in reaching certain goals – both financial and emotional. That’s exactly what we do at Richter.”
DECISION MAKING AND DISCUSSION THROUGH FAMILY FORUMS
Every family will inevitably face a conflict between family members sooner or later. Regardless of how it came about – a lack of trust or transparency, not fully understanding a situation or building feelings of resentment – how it is resolved is what’s key.
Families can be well served by having the proper channels for discussing pressing issues, especially those where a difference of opinion may arise. Unfortunately, unresolved conflict can simmer undetected for years until an existential threat within the family unit brings these unaddressed issues to the surface, at a time when family unity is crucial. Having a safe, well-defined family forum enables families to gather and engage in meaningful conversations and allows for issues to be confronted and discussed during times of relative calm. This not only builds trust and unity among family members but ensures there is a space wherein all family members can feel heard and thoughts can be shared.
Family forums facilitate open communication. They build trust and give everyone an equal voice.
FORMING A FAMILY FORUM
When establishing a family forum, we encourage our families to think constructively, to better serve the needs of the family and make attending their forums worthwhile for all:
- Adopt formal policies for how you wish to conduct your family forums (e.g. venues, agendas, administration)
- Develop policies to encourage broad participation
- Outline rules or guidelines around how to deal with conflict and how to reach decisions
- Formalize your family’s core values and principles – these should guide decision making and be adhered to by all members in and outside the family forum
- Invite and encourage all family members to be a part of the construction process, so everyone feels engaged in the forums right from the start
- Seek collective buy-in on discussions
- Listen actively to each other; be present and respect diverging opinions
- Be sure to incorporate opportunities for fun and family activity – family forums are as much about laughter and building common ties
Family forums and meetings may not always resolve conflicts absolutely, but they are a means to building good communication practices and trust within the family, creating a safe space for all to feel engaged and heard.