Seven Steps to Having a Successful Family Meeting

posted on April 16, 2015 by Willingham & Cote

by Lee B Reimann, Estate and Gifts, Divorce and Family Law

I know that inter-generational communication around “hot button” topics, such as living arrangements, medical choices or even driving issues, can be difficult. My perspective comes both from my practice as an estate planning attorney, but also from my personal life as the adult child of an older parent.  I also know that having these “difficult conversations” can be liberating for older adults, who often feel that their voice is not heard, as well as for adult children who often feel conflicted about whether they are doing the right thing for their parents.

Most clients would truly like to have meaningful conversations with their adult children or their older parents, but don’t know where to start.  I have laid out a plan that has worked successfully for me and creates a neutral framework in which to have conversations that can be emotionally charged.

Seven Steps to Having a Successful Family Meeting

1. Get really clear on what the specific issue is that you want to discuss.  There may be a lot of thing that you want to discuss with your family, but it is best to pick on topic at a time.  Once your family has had one successful conversation, the next conversation is easier to think about.

2. Invite the other participants to the conversation.  You may be ready to have a conversation, but are others?  It is a good idea to let your family know that you are interested in having a conversation, but then you should wait until they are ready to have the conversation as well.

3. Find a common point of agreement among all participants as to what objective they want to reach.  The conversation that a family might want to address is “Should mom continue to drive?”  While mom and her children may disagree about the issue at hand, driving, they may be able to agree on something related, such as safety for other drivers and pedestrians.

4. Before the meeting, look at your views on the topic to make sure that you are approaching the situation non-judgmentally and don’t have hidden agendas.  Once a common objective is found, stick to that objective.  If the objective is safety for other drivers and pedestrians, the cost of maintaining a car or the safety of your mother is not what is being discussed.

5. Keep the discussion to the announced topic and focus on the common agreement.  Don’t let the conversation wander to other topics as this might prevent the main topic from being fully discussed.

6. LISTEN – and when you think you have listened enough, listen some more.

7. Be unattached to your predetermined solution.  Goodness knows I too often think that my solution is the only correct solution, but I have found that I am often wrong about this.  Be open to other solutions as the genius of the group can often open up solutions that one individual alone could never have imagined. 

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