How does the non-clinically trained professional discuss the need for addressing family problems in the family?

Business Leader Post, April 1, 2014

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

I gave a seminar today to a group of seasoned professionals who all work with family businesses and have witnessed how the interaction between the family and the business creates stress for both entities.

My goal was to help the attendees, who were not trained in how to address family issues, surface the issue of family dynamics to their clients when they saw that those dynamics were interfering with their ability to achieve the task for which they had been hired.  It is a very delicate and risky proposition for a professional who is hired to create an Estate Plan or help manage the family’s assets to venture into the delicate and personal world of the family’s relationships. The client has the expectation that they are going to be discussing one set of facts, and then the professional asks them to examine facts in another arena.

We discussed the conceptual framework, suggesting that the professional not frame the issue as a need for family harmony or send the message or that the family is “troubled” or their client is in fact “troubled”.  It is very easy for the client to interpret the professional’s comments as judgmental and disapproving.  That interpretation will distance the client from the professional and only cause the client to become defensive.

A legitimate stance for the professional is to make the comment that he cannot complete his/her assignment, or that the quality of the outcome will be less than optimal unless attention is paid to the family dynamic. That concept can be consistent with the task that the professional has been hired for, and there is less chance that the client will take offense.

How the client responds and the next steps to take are for another discussion. However, that framework of mentioning the family dynamic as an obstacle to providing the best service and/or highest quality product for the client is consistent with the reason that the client hired the professional in the first place.

One attendee had the excellent idea of discussing how he conducts his practice. He included in his introduction to his clients his past experiences of discovering that absent attention to facts about family matters,  family dynamics can interfere with or compromise the quality of the outcome. That at least sets the stage and gives him implicit if not explicit permission to surface the topic if the need arises.