Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

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 within our families. Naturally, we believe in our own story and often assume we know our family members’ stories too.

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 embrace this sentiment, their conflicts become opportunities to grow together. Here are six steps to help you prepare to have difficult conversations with family and how to get them to join you in Rumi’s field.

1) – 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 then simply avoiding conflict to keep the peace is a bad tactic.

2) – 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.

3) -Take another sheet of paper with a line down the middle. Put yourself in their shoes and make your best guess as to how your family member(s) see the facts and what they make those facts mean. Be as honest and objective as possible.

4) – Put the two sheets of paper side by side and identify where the facts and meanings are in conflict. 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.

5) – 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 underlying the positions your family members are taking. They are also the building blocks of your options for reasonable resolution. As you do this work acknowledge your emotions but do not let them control you. It is these strong emotions triggered by your story of the past and what happened to you that traps you in conflict.

6) – It is now time to approach the other side. 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.

Get help early:

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, your financial planner or your family enterprise advisor. They are 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 Conflict Management Coach or a Mediator to work with you to design and facilitate an effective intervention. Remember the earlier the better.


David Gould LLB KC C Med

For help managing a high-conflict wealth transition, or to learn about how we can help you prepare for these conflicts, feel free to contact me today. I offer conflict coaching, conflict management training, and mediation services.