The Most Powerful and Least Productive Word in Family Governance

I have worked with several families who have had all progress, all decisions, and all attempts to change or move forward stymied by one simple word. No.

No is an extremely powerful word. It can turn enthusiasm into apathy. It can stop a family from doing the right thing. It can derail entire years’ worth of work.

How can a family move beyond the word No?

First, it is important to take the pulse of the family and gain an understanding of the focus of the family council.

  1. Does the majority of the family support the family council?
  2. Are many of your family members happy with the family’s direction?

If the family has majority support, then the next question a family council needs to ask is: How much time does the family council spend focusing on the positive majority? If the answer is disproportionate, then the family council is likely spending too much time on the negative few rather than the positive majority.

It is natural to want to resolve the differences, fix the problems, and make things better; however this is family we are talking about – how likely is it that the family will all be happy at the same time?

The first step is to arm yourself with answers to the above questions. Then the family needs to agree on how to move beyond the impasse.

Getting agreement on moving beyond the word No

First, the family needs to decide how they will make decisions. The best way to get beyond the word No is to create an inclusive decision-making process. Get those who are likely to say No to any new policy or process in on the development and decision-making by using a task force. If they won’t participate, call them and tell them what you’re working on and get their feedback as you work on development.

Second, show individuals where you used their feedback in the development process. If someone has an idea that can’t be used, explain why and how you can keep it for future consideration. This is an important step because it shows individuals that their voice was heard and incorporated into the proposal.

Third, agree that the family will strive for consensus through the inclusive decision making process–but that the decision will ultimately be decided by the majority if consensus can’t be reached.

Fourth, get agreement on key ideas before anything gets written down in a policy or formal document. Webinars, family council meetings, conference calls, and e-mails can all be great ways to shop around what a task force is thinking about prior to drafting a big document.

Fifth, don’t present surprises for a vote. The family should have seen all of the materials several times prior to a call for a vote. Use available technology to get information in front of family members well before it’s time to vote on it. Provide previews with ample time for consideration and feedback.

This process may seem too elaborate for a family setting. However, this may be the key to making forward progress rather than being stymied by that dreaded word: No.

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