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Forging Family Partnerships: 3 Tips for Building Trust

Given that discussing financial goals and plans with loved ones has always been challenging for many, this time of disruption calls on us to bring new candor and focus into the family dialogue about money.

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This pandemic has lasted far longer than anyone expected and will sadly persist for the foreseeable future. Yet the true resilience of human nature is also evident as individuals have found innovative and creative ways to pivot their businesses, connect with friends and family, and even learn new skills. Families with members in different households have bridged the distance with video calls, game nights, webinars and live streams. Technology has become an ever-present reality for us in ways that we never imagined when 2020 began.

But many of us have also been overwhelmed by the forced switch to virtual-only connections and exhausted by its relentlessness. Parents with young children are juggling childcare and online learning, and those with college-age kids are grappling with how to return to college campuses safely or with the reality of not being able to return at all. Coping with these hardships challenges us all to be more intentional with our communication in order to not only stay on track with our responsibilities but also to sustain meaningful relationships within our families.

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Financial matters are part of the backdrop as well. Young couples are contemplating the future of work and possible career disruptions, while older family members may be rethinking their retirement plans. Many families are adjusting their spending priorities and, in some cases, even their broader values and purpose. Given that discussing financial goals and plans with loved ones has always been challenging for many, this time of disruption calls on us to bring new candor and focus into the family dialogue about money.

Set the Stage for Trust: Check in Emotionally

As we delve into money topics with family members, trust is the single most important ingredient needed to ensure financial harmony. While virtual platforms have made it easier for far-flung family members to connect more frequently, it is also important that we use this time together to tackle the tough topics (such as money) that have often been taboo in more “normal” times. As research has shown: “Money is not the core reason that families fight; money is how we keep score in the fight for the intangibles of love and approval.” Words like “I’m disinheriting her” can be more than an idle threat; once trust is broken in a family, it is very difficult to regain.

To start, recognize each other’s unique perspectives and experiences that contribute to the family culture. Each individual member has valuable skills—and when brought together, this creates a dynamic collective vision for the family’s future. Reframe your discussions by focusing on fostering a safe environment for vulnerable money conversations, one that recognizes the pandemic’s particular impact on each person. The more we have open sharing about our financial lives, the more we can use our financial resources as a source of connection, not contention.

Get Down to Business: Hold Consistent Family Meetings

Once a family has created a trusting, safe and emotionally responsive space for members to talk about money, it is important to approach a discussion with everyone understanding what the family’s financial goals are; in other words, where is the family headed and how are they going to get there—a strategy explored in my book, The Business of Family. This may change over time as family members grow. Goals may be influenced by not only wealth levels but also career plans, personal transitions and more. Just like a business, a family must invest in its people, who require support, training and mentoring to reach their objectives.

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This is where regular “business” meetings can help. Create an agenda that starts by acknowledging the importance of everyone being present and participating in the discussion. As with any meeting, we must ensure that all opinions, solutions and suggestions are welcome. To foster engagement, let each member own part of the session. If you have kids in college, task them with conducting social media research into the chosen family goal. Younger children can help facilitate icebreakers or the recaps of the last meeting, and you should assign one member to record minutes to hold the family accountable for the various outcomes.

Keep Learning: Focus on Financial Education

It is important to ask—as a family—what money skills do we all need? Make sure everyone understands what the end goal is, whether it be how to create a budget, develop a retirement savings plan, complete a major purchase or something else. Approach these topics with learning as the outcome and host a brainstorming session online. Have each family member bring a subject to the table that can be safely debated and discussed. To avoid conflicts, approach these talks as ever-evolving and focused on education. Setting actionable small targets that can be achieved amidst lockdown—attending a relevant webinar, building LinkedIn connections or committing funds to a cause—are excellent ways to show progress. Another way to make this exploration more engaging is through hosted sessions that highlight an individual family member’s expertise.

As challenging as this year has been, virtual connections have allowed us to leverage our strongest allies, engage the family as one of our most vitally important networks, and redefine what family financial management looks like moving forward. These themes will foster a family culture with trust and integrity at the center, where authentic discussions are the foundation of a family’s financial habits.

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