Directly Address the New Tensions at the Holiday Dinner Table- Susan Schoenfeld
A sought-after public speaker and thought-partner to families of wealth, Susan Schoenfeld is CEO of Wealth Legacy Advisors LLC. An award-winning thought leader, Susan has the “secret sauce” needed to help families reconnect and have the conversations that matter.
With the ongoing pandemic, social distancing, and other safety protocols, families are being forced to rethink family meetings. In light of these obstacles, the need for families to communicate about their goals, values, hopes, and dreams is more crucial than ever.
Families are aware of the stress on their wealth structures, as well as the imperative to validate a mission for their wealth. To overcome these challenges, families are embracing the new reality of virtual gatherings. In this interview, Susan Schoenfeld shares her expertise on these current challenges faced by families of wealth.
Susan, now more than ever families need to have conversations that matter. In this time of social distancing and emotional upheaval, how should families successfully do so? How should they make the most of virtual family meetings?
“Family meetings are a key technique for enhancing and improving family communication, whether meetings are held on a regular, periodic basis, or episodic to address some specific family disagreement. The very act of sitting around a conference table for a facilitated discussion about topics the family doesn’t generally address in its casual communications can produce raw emotions, unexpected revelations, and hopefully, enhanced decision-making structures.
“In today’s Covid-19 world of social distancing and lockdowns, face-to-face family meetings just aren’t possible. Family members are often dispersed around the United States and internationally, and at present gathering in one room is neither advisable nor safe. Even after the coronavirus crisis is over, there may still be reasons that face-to-face meetings are not convenient or feasible.
“We are fortunate to live in a time when we have the opportunity to use technology to meet virtually. Whether your family chooses Zoom, WebEx, Go-To-Meeting, or other video conferencing tools, technology makes virtual family meetings possible.
“Yet, however good technology may be, it is not a substitute for gathering in the same room, face-to-face. There are newer issues to be planned around, along with the usual interpersonal dynamic challenges that we observe in most family meetings.
“Keeping all this in mind, my best advice would be to reproduce as much as possible the experience of a live meeting. In planning a family meeting, one must always take into account the cultural expectations and behaviors of others who have not met virtually before, live in different time zones, or are less comfortable using video conferencing technology.
“There are so many other little things which can be done to make family virtual meetings successful. Zoom fatigue is real! Although everyone is attending the meeting from the comfort of their home, it can still be exhausting. Scheduling shorter meetings and taking breaks are important. Multi-tasking should be avoided — the same as during an in-person meeting.
“Respect, a critical component of all family meetings, is even more important in virtual family meetings. No interrupting, no sarcasm, bullying or snide remarks, and so on. And finally, just like an in-person meeting, it is crucial to make a list of action points and next steps and assign a person to be directly responsible.”
Along with the method and mode of communication, the topics at hand have also changed in 2020. What new issues do families need to address?
“There are so many important current issues. The Black Lives Matter movement has swept across the country and has energized many, especially younger people. The same goes for the recent Presidential election. For perhaps the first time in their lives, younger generations are politically engaged and hold strong opinions. Two main challenges arise from this.
“The first is the issue of reconciling generational differences of opinions. Family members in support of BLM or a particular political figure may have diametrically opposite opinions from others in their family, which creates the potential for conflict. To successfully manage these differences, it is imperative to allow all voices to be heard respectfully. Another issue is the challenge of keeping younger generations engaged long-term so they can continue their family’s legacy.
“As we all know; our nation is so divided now. Invariably, family members will hold different beliefs. Be it at Thanksgiving dinner or any other gathering, the possibility of angry differing points of view is now more likely than ever. The need for respectfully listening and allowing every family member’s passion to come through is key.”
Thank you for sharing these points, Susan.
Public Speaker & Thought Partner to families of wealth and their advisors