Maintaining family harmony between family and business lies in learning together. Skillful love means intentionally prioritizing relationships over assets. Families don’t just pass on wealth, they also pass on communication skills. As the family and family wealth grows in complexity, new skills are often needed to keep relationships strong and support the needs and vision of the family. The senior generation may not discuss family wealth because the generation before them considered the subject taboo. Or the family leadership, like their parents, is more comfortable taking a “wait and see” approach when faced with family discord rather than engage the topic and risk ruffling feathers.
Families who invest in practicing skillful love significantly increase the likelihood of a successful wealth transition. Success is defined as the family maintaining control of their assets and attaining family unity. Learning how to reveal distrust creates the opportunity to have open and honest conversations. Recently, a family patriarch questioned the readiness of his 32-year- old son to be a responsible steward. A recent distribution of $1 million resulted in a failed experiment with the son having spent the entire sum on friends and lavish excursions, without investing any of the money or accumulating any savings. Rather than risk confrontation, the father simply restructured his estate plan to delay distributions. In this case, the message sent was the opposite of love. Judgment and disappointment put them both on a path of increasing dissonance.
Learning makes what seems impossible possible. Skillful love requires a commitment to care for the relationship over assets. Generous listening, focusing on the future, and acknowledging each other are three important underpinnings of skillful love.
Generously listening to what really matters to each other puts the emphasis on the speaker, not what you are doing as a listener. The purpose of listening in this way is to ask questions that give the speaker generous space to be heard. Questions such as “Is there more you would like to say?” “What is important to you about that?” and “What else?” are powerful ways that give the speaker the experience of being truly heard.
A second skill to incorporate is focusing on a vision for the future to keep the conversation centered on new possibilities, rather than the past. When we talk about the past, there is often an agenda of proving who is right or to blame. Questions such as “What would it look like if this could work out for both of us?” or “What actions do you see you can take to consider yourself a responsible steward?” all invite the imagination as a way of revealing new possibilities.
A third skill is to catch the family member doing something “right” that supports the relationship. For example, let the family member know that you appreciate when they respond to a text. If they arrive on time and are typically late, acknowledge them for making the effort and what it means to you. “Thanks for your text. It means a lot to me!” “I love it when we walk together” “Your kindness to others is inspiring to me.”
As the holidays roll in and the family comes together, practice skillful love and experience new ways of extending your commitment of care to one another.
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