It's Never about the Money

Posted September 10, 2010 in Our Family Business at Odds

by Tom Davidow

When families disagree about money, either in the family business or in the distribution of assets through wills and other estate planning techniques, professional advisors usually assume that since the problem is about money, money can solve the problem. If only it were that simple.

Money - attitudes towards it and behavior surrounding it - is often the symptom of family members' discomfort and almost always represent underlying issues that exist within the family system. Money and how it is treated within the family system can send messages of fairness or lack thereof, disappointment, unfulfilled expectations, acceptance, love and the most powerful negative message - rejection.

How do you put a dollar figure on hurt and/or angry feelings? Using money to heal wounds may seem like an effective antidote, but dollars only put a temporary lid on disagreements. Like grass growing through concrete, those underlying feelings will emerge again.

The first step toward resolving conflicts that seem to be about money is to understand that it is not about the money, but the underlying feelings that family members have towards each other. The next step is to create a safe environment where family members can express those feelings and come to a better understanding of the source of their tension and hostility. Family harmony and the experience of healthy, warm relationships cannot be bought. They have to be earned through the hard work of honest and meaningful dialogue. A positive result is priceless.

To see the article, "The Brooke Astor case: It wasn't about the money" in the 2010 Summer issue of Family Business by Tom Davidow, Ed.D and Patricia Annino Esq., click HERE