Understanding and dealing with Family problems


Understanding and dealing with Family problems

2 minute read

Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds, they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material. F. Scott Fitzgerald

We are all emotionally attached to our families, whether we like it or not. Every family has problems occasionally. But sometimes family conflict can infiltrate into our day to day lives and have a significant negative effect on our wellbeing.

 Often, the most serious Family/Business  issues will sit below the surface and resemble that of an iceberg: –


 When dealing with Succession planning there is often an over-emphasis on the overt or ‘visible’ issues. These include matters such as:

  • Business Structures
  • Tax and legal matters 
  • Financial outcomes 
  • Properties and assets 
  • Risk mitigation
  • Retirement planning 
  • Business Planning 
  • Estate planning and Wills

Of course, the above considerations are very important. It is equally important however, that we draw out covert or ‘hidden’ issues that, if left unresolved, may undermine all of the work undertaken on the above matters. 

Examples of these covert issues include 

  • Business/Family Culture
  • Perceptions
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Feelings
  • Conflicts 
  • Hidden agendas
  • Historical events 
  • Jealousies
  • Personality clashes 
  • Perceived unfairness 
  • Lack of communication  

The first step of identifying and bringing these issues to the surface needs to be handled with a good deal of empathy and understanding. Managing a family dynamic is very different than working with an individual. Discovering past family problems through some form of psychoanalysis can turn out to be more destructive than beneficial. Family issues that are purposefully drawn out in a family conference may prove difficult to resolve and ‘put back in the box’.  

Our method is to provide all stakeholders with the opportunity to complete a confidential questionnaire. The answers are not shared with the other participants, so an independent facilitator is essential. The questionnaires serve as a most important guide on how conversation should be directed – and correct solutions applied. 

For instance, a common response to a question such as: ‘How does your decision-making process work?’  Could be: ‘Frustratingly, all management decisions are made by Dad without consultation or communication.’ 

The solution to this problem is not to single out any particular individual for criticism but to put in place a formal communication structure and decision–making policy.    

It is important that the questions asked are not based simply on yes/no answers. They should stimulate thinking and draw out attitudes to the succession planning process.  

 Questions such as ‘What could eventuate from the planning that would make you feel the process had been successful for you? And … ‘What do you believe are the key issues that would need to be addressed to reach an outcome that would satisfy everyone?’ provide a good foundation and give the respondent a sense of involvement and participation.     

During subsequent meetings it is important that an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding is created. The following are some important tips on how to conduct conversation.   

  • Understand that people are not all the same. Allow those with less forceful personalities to have their say without being talked down. All parties should have the opportunity to articulate their personal position. 
  • Try to avoid using emotions such as anger, fear or guilt to get your own way. 
  • Do not allow “Red Herrings” to distract from achieving a positive outcome. Try to avoid going over past history and past grievances that cannot be changed. Focus on the future and the things that you are able to influence. 
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated. Ask, rather than order – and be careful how you frame your comments. 
  • In a non-threatening way, take the time to explain the rationale behind your point of view. There may be misconceptions and misunderstandings. More will be achieved in a quicker timeframe when all parties understand why someone feels the way they do. 
  • If there are significant differences of opinion, establish what is the common ground. Try and get a belief in the benefits of a positive outcome and an understanding of the consequences if one is not achieved.   
  • Narrow down the points of disagreement. They may not be as extensive as you think. Focus on resolving these issues and avoid getting off the subject.
  • Avoid negative behaviours that cannot have a positive outcome.  Do not waste time apportioning blame or arguing over who is at fault.
  • Be prepared to compromise. The decisions made may not be any individual’s preferred outcome however it may be something that all parties can be comfortable with. 
  • Don’t feel guilty if you have done something wrong, instead admit it. Never hesitate to accept your faults. Be willing to apologise. A lot of tension can be released when one of the parties is strong enough to offer the first apology.

The planning process should be driven to a positive solution. It should be seen as an opportunity to create a new beginning no matter what difficulties could have occurred in the past or may still haunt us in the present.  

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