When Is It Time to Back Off?

Business Leader Post, December 17, 2012

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

I learned a new lesson today, one I had learned before but forgot in the heat of the moment. An intense argument broke out among family members for whom I was a consultant. My first response was to try and stop it from happening. I determined the level of emotion and attempted to talk family members “down” by introducing reasonable ideas and or alternatives. I also reminded them that they were risking the relationships of their nieces and nephews and burdening them with something that was not their fault. My feeling as a consultant was one of deep concern accompanied by a sense of helplessness. My concern/antenna was up so high that my behavior ran the risk of crossing the boundaries/rules of engagement.

As a consultant, you cannot get so involved with family members that you want resolution more than they do or that you can’t let them go. You cannot try to hang onto the engagement instead of listening to your clients. They always know what they can handle and what they cannot. Sometimes things can get worse, and sometimes the fight is cathartic and necessary for them to re-group. Either way, when the message from your clients is to “back off,” listen to them and do it.