Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: The Fine Art of Family Decision-Making


"Our choices are made in a moment, and yet their consequences transcend a lifetime."  M. J. DeMarco 


Families come in all shapes and sizes, from a couple to a traditional nuclear unit to a single parent with children, to multiple generations and everything in between. Regardless of size and structure, every family from time to time needs to make group decisions. Some do it well and some do it poorly; some do it gracefully and some do it with rancor and tumult. Here is a question all families should consider.

How can we improve the quality of family decisions, and do it in a way that also improves the quality of family relationships?

An ideal decision-making process leads to an excellent decision AND honors each participant and the information, insight, experience, wisdom, and inspiration they bring to the table. Two components of a family decision-making methodology need to be considered:
  1. the REGARD with which we treat each member of the group; and
  2. the PROCESS employed to reach decisions.
To put it another way, if we employ a PROCESS that produces objectively appropriate decisions, but during that process the REGARD we communicate for others in the group is shallow, artificial, condescending, disrespectful, or inconsiderate of their intrinsic human worth and their value to the family, it will taint the effectiveness of the decision and harm the family.  

For example, if a parent makes unilateral, authoritarian decisions without consulting family members, and presents those decisions in such a way that the family members feel belittled, insulted, devalued, or disregarded, they may go along with the parent's decisions for a time, but eventually they will find ways to undermine or disregard those decisions or to abandon the family relationship altogether.

On the other hand, if the PROCESS we use results in poor decisions, no amount of good feelings will make up for that. Thus, hugging and singing Kumbaya as we decide to march into a family financial disaster will not benefit the family in the long run.

So, how should we treat those in the group while we work on achieving the best possible family decision? How do we communicate our REGARD for them during the decision-making process? Here are ten recommendations.

1.  We give our full attention to each person as they speak, taking care to not interrupt them or cut them off. We actually listen to what they're saying, instead of just preparing what we intend to say next.

2.  We consider each one's ideas and input as valuable, as equally important as our own (and everyone else's around the table.) We recognize that great thoughts can often come from unlikely sources.

3.  We don't rush them; we patiently allow them as much time as they need to think through the issue and express themselves fully.

4.   We appreciate each person in the group and what he or she brings to the discussion and to the family overall; we express that appreciation often.

5.    We encourage each other to stretch ourselves and our thinking. We shun competition with each other in the decision-making process.

6.   We share the information we have available to us with the whole group. We don't sabotage each other's thinking by "hiding the ball" when we know an important fact the others may not know.

7.   We're not afraid of expressing our emotions and we're not distressed when others share their feelings with the group. We've come to know that sometimes, crying makes you smarter and laughter creates breakthrough thinking.

8.   We are comfortable with differences in viewpoint, experience, and objectives. In fact, we find we think better by having contrasting perspectives.

9.   We are curious about where others' ideas come from and where their thinking may take them next. As they share their thoughts, we might be asking ourselves: "I wonder how he came to see things that way? How fascinating! Where is this idea leading her?"

10. We gather in a physical location that is comfortable and reassuring, that expresses a positive spirit, and that makes everyone feel welcome. It encourages them to participate fully in the meeting.


This list, identified by Nancy Kline as "The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment©" (see her book More Time to Think and her website is a fail-safe recipe for creating a supportive and uplifting setting where the family can wrestle with important family issues, leading to each member of the group being able to contribute their very best thoughts and insights. Just as importantly, it develops a deep bond of love and kindness that will continue with the family at the end of their decision-making gathering.

Having fostered an environment in which the family can communicate the love and respect with which they REGARD one another and in which each person can do their best thinking, next we should consider what PROCESS the family should employ. That's the subject for the second part of this article, in which I describe in detail what a "FAMILY COUNCIL" looks like and how to successfully set one up. Be on the lookout for the next Wednesday Wisdom.

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(NOTE: My original working title for this article was "The Fine Art of Group Decision-Making" because I believe the principles discussed here are applicable to groups in business, education, government, social clubs, and other areas of human life. But because I believe family decision-making is both the most important and sometimes the most difficult forum in which to use and apply these principles, I decided to focus on that aspect of human relations rather than try to cover the broader territory. However, I hope that won't cause readers to minimize the value and application of this message in a wide variety of other settings.)

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