There is Power in that Talking Stick


I was watching a movie the other day, Tanna, set in a remote Pacific Island, and acted by the Yakel Tribe members. In an intense scene between warring parties, I was struck by their communication. Even in the heat of opinions and attacks, they had a natural and respectful ability to let each person speak, fully, before another person got up to speak. They did not interrupt. They did not use escalating threats. They listened to the speaker before making their remarks. It was inspiring to watch.

This view into this tribe’s ability to communicate with an opposing tribe, when stakes and tension were high reminded me of an incident that occurred earlier this year. In a U.S. Senator’s office, during the stopgap spending bill talks were held. Senator Susan Collins used her “talking stick” as a tool to let others in the meeting know that the person holding the stick had the authority to speak. Everyone else had to wait until that person was done speaking and the talking stick was released before one of them could have their turn.

In this scenario, the “Talking Stick” has several key purposes. The first is to allow the speaker the platform to speak sans interruption. Second, the stick reminds others that they are to listen as their time to talk has not yet come. Third, the sticks passed from one speaker to the next. But at this meeting, an interruption did occur. Instead of holding on to the stick, the speaker hurled it towards the interrupter and missed, chipping a glass sculpture instead.

Much can be learned from the power in the “Talking Stick”. It has been used for centuries as a tool in negotiations, mediations, family meetings and sensitive facilitated discussions.  It is a powerful reminder to where the room’s attendees’ attention should be centered as well as a reminder that the person with the stick has control of the message until the stick is relinquished.

If you have not used a talking stick in a meeting, give it a shot. It is amazing how it can keep meetings on track, viewpoints respected, and keep tempers from flaring and accusations from hurling.


The Hero’s Story is Significant


Over the holidays, I attended the annual Seattle Business Magazine’s Family Business Awards Dinner. It was a fantastic event, honoring family businesses who deserve recognition in categories such as: Best Practices, Community Involvement and Family Business of the Year.

During the dinner, Chris Schiller, Managing Director of Cascadia Capital, gave a compelling introduction to the Family Business of the Year award.

I would like to quote Chris, as I thought his words were applicable to those of us who ork in guiding and consulting with family businesses and/or their families.

Chris began his talk by saying: “In thinking about tonight’s wonderful celebration of family business, it struck me that the eminent mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is much like the story of family business. All of the family businesses in this room have followed a similar path to Joseph Campbell’s hero, with you or one of your family taking the risk to start a company, then embarking on the journey of building your business, meeting tremendous challenges and personal struggles on the journey, finding various mentors (maybe including the family business advisors in this room) to help you overcome those challenges, and then crossing over into a period of transformation that leads to your ultimate success as a business and a family.

For all of you family businesses in this room, you likely have not arrived yet… rather your story continues to grow with your current generation and the next generation coming up. Often the journey is more important than the destination, as they say.

As investment bankers, my Cascadia colleagues and I live in a world of left brain… financial statements, revenue and EBITDA, numbers. Often the value of a business is ascribed largely to these numbers. However, what I have learned and what drives us, rather, is the stories of our family business clients. We are able to exercise our right brain to tell our client’s story to the market in a way that we find the optimal partner that embraces that story, and thereby sees value that others do not see in just the numbers. These stories are really what drives our passion for working with family business. “

These words were inspiring for me. Thank you, Chris, for speaking them and then letting me share them here. The story of the business is so important for families who continue their businesses across generations.

I Made a Startling Observation about Leadership

I recently noted something I want to talk about. A little while ago I attended a “town hall” meeting of a group to which I have been a member and one-time leader for well over a decade. At this meeting of about 200 people, I experienced a phenomenon that may have always been there. Let me explain.

There are members who feel comfortable in criticizing the leadership, the direction and other parts of the organization. They are vocal in their criticism, sometimes sparking controversy and sometimes adding fuel to fires already lit. But, often, something changes within them, that they do not see, when they become titled leaders of the overarching organization of the group.

Suddenly, as if a switch has been activated within them, their criticism transforms into a call for peace and understanding, for tolerance and respect. Those who criticized now call for an end to “negativity”, the negativity they had sparked or fueled, themselves, at one time.

Until recently I had not noticed anything askew about this change. But, for some reason, I now focused my attention on a question. I asked myself: “Why, as leaders, do we shut down criticism, when as followers we initiate or support criticism?” As leaders we tend to seek harmony and while as followers we tend to seek a voice. But so often, neither listens to the other. Each merely wants to shut the other down.

I find it interesting that we cannot look at both criticism and the role of “leadership” as being two sides of the same coin. Neither are inherently “better.” Neither are inherently “right.” I believe voices want to convey something even if their expression, or the words themselves, seem divisive. Leaders are not necessarily parents or moral authorities but can think they are, because they have been given implicit responsibilities or titles.

How do you view criticism? Do you try to shut it down? Do you tolerate it? Do you know how to speak to it, so it feels heard, while still maintaining your center? How do you view leadership? Does it have an implicit authority that overrules a “voice?” How do you build a bridge to listening and collaboration when criticism and harmony live together?


2 Steps to Take When Money Conversations are Difficult to Initiate


Step back for a minute, and take inventory. The inventory I would like you to take consists of: the ease at which you enter conversations about money.

First, take note of what the intention of the money conversation you are about to begin is. If your intention is to blame, shame, or guilt someone else’s behaviors or actions, this conversation could very well be difficult to have. Who wants to be part of a conversation where accusations or disappoints are hurled? I do not know anyone who wants to be part of that.

Reframe your intention so it is not about how you want the other person to feel, but instead, determine what it is you want to achieve from the conversation. For example, let’s say you do not like the spending habits of your spouse or partner and want to let them know this…yet again. Instead of wanting to express how inappropriate you think it is for them to spend as much as they do, talk about how important it is for you to save. Then ask for their support on how to add a savings to your money activities.

When you know what true intention to the conversation you want to have, you can initiate that conversation without attaching attributes of shame, blame, or attack to the person with whom you are having the money conversation. Instead, you are collaborating to further your intentions rather than looking to release an arrow laced with contempt towards someone else’s feelings.

Second, look at what outcome you want from your money conversation. Using the last example, your preferred outcome may be to start a savings program. It is important to know what outcome you are aiming for so you can use this outcome as your reference and return to it when you use trigger points leading the conversation down rabbit holes to discord.

When money conversations are difficult to initiate, know your underlying intention for the conversation you want to have. From there, identify the outcome you want so you can communicate that to your partner. Remember to return the conversation to its intended focus when it goes astray.

Holiday Family Giving Conversations Can Reap Great Benefits

At a recent University alumnae dinner, the host asked the attendees, to indicate, by a show of hands,
who engaged in family philanthropy. Nearly the entire room or about 150 guests raised their hands. But when the host followed up by asking who engaged the family in a conversation about the meaning of philanthropy and the impact they want their donations to have both for the organization (s) and the family, only 2 raised their hand.

With the holidays providing a favored setting for family conversations, perhaps this can be an appropriate setting to start a conversation about the impact of giving for the family.

Remember these 3 tips to make your conversation more engaging, should you choose to initiate a family conversation on charitable giving. Know and communicate the intention of the conversation and its intended outcome. Keep the conversation friendly and inviting rather than judgmental and limiting. Have an inclusive conversation by ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to say what is on their minds and in their hearts, without interruption.

When each member feels heard, understood and included, they feel connected. This connection can reap great benefits for families as they initiate or develop their family giving.

Holidays and giving, bring it home for deeper cheer.

Trust is like a Spider Web

In a book I recently read, trust was defined in one word: predictability. That was powerful. And I began to inquire: “Is that all? Maybe that’s what trust comes down to.”

So, I started looking at trust more carefully, or more specifically, my use of trust, I understood it to be more than predictability. But what more was it? I looked at trust for me and saw that what was missing in this one-word definition were the additional components that give trust its almost mercurial characteristic. I would like to mention them here.

I have found that trust includes a sense of reliance in someone’s character. Where predictability infers expectation, reliability infers consistency. Whether it is a sense of reliance in their sincerity, their competency, or the way they show up, reliance in someone is a major ingredient to trust.

Another component to trust rests in understanding one’s motivations. Motivations reveal intentions, priorities, goals and needs. When I understand someone’s motivation, I can bestow trust.

Yet another component to trust is the feeling of true authority born by experience and not merely by knowledge. When I sense that someone is a student of what they are talking about, rather than a transmitter or information, I can grant trust.

What I find interesting about trust is that we can provide trust quickly, slowly, or not at all. There seems to be a continuum for the application of trust. I have found that this continuum revolves around feelings of safety, feelings of reciprocity, and feelings of being understood. Trust is a mighty bridge to building and sustaining connection. And like a spider web-strand which is ten times stronger than steel at its same weight, trust is a strong bond between people. And again, like the spider strand which can be easily broken and change the nature of the web, trust can be broken or withdrawn suddenly, and like the spider web, changes the nature of the relationship to which it was bound.

Let me know your thoughts on trust. How do you experience trust? How do you dole out trust? What causes you to withdraw trust?

Active Listening is Key to Strong Communication

How often do we fast forward through a conversation because A: We know what they’re going to say, anyway; B: We have something we want to say and are no longer listening to the other person or C: Our mind is wandering to something else and leave them speaking to the air? Never, right?!
When communication is rocky, use this tool to change the dynamic of the conversation: Active Listening. Active listening means listening to the intention of the speaker rather than inserting your own conclusion or meaning. It means taking the time to understand what the other person is saying instead of making assumptions.

For instance, the speaker may say: “I can’t give you money. I need it.” It is easy to make a judgment or assumption about what the speaker is saying but what is really being said here? As the active listener, you take the time to find out rather than jump to your conclusions and assumptions. This is an opportunity for inquiry with an exploratory response like: “Tell me more about what you need it for” or a question like: “So I can better understand, what is important about money to you?” Inquire with a sense of wonder rather than a sense of pre-conceived judgment.

It is important to learn, in active listening, what the speaker intends, with their words. In the example above, the speaker might be inferring that they have few resources and need to keep their resources for their immediate obligations. It could mean that the speaker is not yet convinced that your request is valid or important enough for them to give you any. It could mean that the timing of your request is inappropriate. It could mean that the speaker does not trust you. It could mean that you did not approach the subject in a way that was acceptable to the speaker. There are so many reasons that could have precipitated the speaker’s response. Active listening eliminates the need to assume, to judge or to react and use an inquiring methodology with your mind open to understand what is motivating the speaker to say what they said.

When you listen actively, you provide space for the speaker to tell you about their intentions and motivations. When the speaker has completed their comment, you, the receiver, can reflect and paraphrase what you heard, and relaying what you understood their underlying motivation or interests are. For example, if the speaker were to say: “You never help in the house”, you can reflect and paraphrase by responding: “It sounds like another hand with chores is important to you.” Then follow up with a question: “What would it look like if you had help in the house?” Note how this helps diffuse any shame or blame tricks, tactics or techniques. Note how this type of a response can create a bridge of connection rather than create a wedge of contention.

Communication is active. Tell me where you have found active listening benefit you.

How Could My Parents Blow It?

As the multi trillion-dollar asset based makes its way from one generation to the next, in what has been called the biggest asset transfer in history, I hear a repeating question that has plagued families for hundreds of years: “How could my parents blow it when my grandparents had so much money?”

According to the Williams Group, a wealth consultant group, 70% of wealth families lose their money by the end of the second generation and 90% of these families find their wealth has been squandered, spent, or squabbled over by the end of the third generation. And they are not the only ones to have uncovered troubling findings. U.S. Trust found, in their survey of high net worth individuals, that 78% of the wealth holders feel that the next generation is “not financially responsible enough to handle inheritance.” 64% of those surveyed have disclosed little to their children about their financial wealth.

I have heard many stories due to the work I do with families, keeping them connected across generations, when money matters. One family’s senior generation, turned over all financial decisions, after receiving a large payoff for the sale of a product, to their financial advisor. The financial advisor has become the arbiter of family and friend loans. The financial advisor decides how and when the money is to be used. The family has not established its own purpose to the money. There are no family conversations about money. Although the sale of the product was completed two years ago, there are already disagreements about whether or not to let the next generation know about their wealth, where to send their children to college, and whether or not to help an older generation with their mounting health care bills. The financial advisor is not equipped to help the family build a framework of purpose to the money so family conversations about money can be neutral rather than tense.

Another family, whose story I know, doesn’t want their children to know about the money they received from the sale of a business. They decided, after receiving their initial check that nothing would change at home. But within a few months, one parent had quit work, wanted to move their parents to live near them, and was adamant that they did not want their older teenage children to know anything about “the money” as it may ruin them. The other parent has found that they cannot engage in a meaningful conversation with their spouse about their money. It has created a gap between them.

Money, in families, needs to become just another topic conversation or more families run the risk of finding that their money becomes a “home wrecker.” When money is not talked about and understood for its role in the family’s life, data supports the fear that the next generation will “blow it.”

“How did my parents blow it when my grandparents had so much money?” is a question I am often asked. “They didn’t know any better. Nobody taught them about what money meant to them nor helped them construct a framework of purpose that the family shared, developed and sustained across generations.

What can you do to affect a framework of purpose and financial smarts in your family? Let me know I would like to hear your comments.

Reduce Money Conflict by Instituting These 2 Key Elements

Conflicts can arise in families with family businesses in many areas, but one that seems to be prevalent and I see in many of these families is: conflict around money.

When there are family members both in and out of the family business, the topic of money can become heated when differing objectives are striving to be served. As the business grows, the business “side” may very well need and want to re-invest profits in the business, pay down debt, or expand while those not in the business may want their distributions or dividends to grow. This is a natural tension that can disrupt any family enterprise and family heart.

Families who want to sustain the family across generations while continuing the family business have had to create successful models to keep the harmony of the family objectives in partnership with those of the business. A successful model is one that codifies the purpose of the family money with the purpose of the business so both can be understood and appropriately developed.

Because individual expectations can disrupt what is being built or developed, it is critical that purpose be defined and codified by all appropriate family members. It is also important to conduct annual reporting meetings so each “side” is aware of the sustaining objectives of each other and stay in high communication with known expectations. This will reduce conflicts between the two entities. Without purpose, cohesion gives way to individual agendas and behaviors which in turn, ignite conflicts.

Change the Narrative of Money Conversations for Better Outcomes- Part 2 of 2

It is important for couples who are arguing over money to take a moment to change the narrative. Instead of rehashing the perceived problem, engage in a different conversation about money. Start your next conversation with a question.


The type of question you ask is critical. For starters, ask open ended questions as they elicit a more expressive response. Listen to the responses you receive, not merely for information but for feelings and intentions behind the words that the responder provides. Seek to understand them so you can create bridges to a conversation that brings you both to a satisfying outcome. Ask questions like:

  • “How did you observe about money when you grew up?”
  • “What did your Mother teach you about money overtly and covertly?”
  • “What did your Dad teach you about money overtly and covertly?”
  • “What did you like to do with your money as a child and how did that make you feel?”
  • What is an example of a challenge you have had with money and how did you successfully face that challenge?”
  • “What is something you are proud to have done that increased your savings?”
  • “What would you like to change with your current money management?
  • “What are three things that are important to you about money?”


There are many more questions that can be asked but I wanted to get you started. You may think of ones on your own as well. The key point is to remember to make your questions open ended and inquisitive rather than confrontational. A question like: “Why don’t you save money?” is more confrontational than “What is important about saving money to you?” which is more inquisitive and invites understanding. People want to be understood and it is important that questions be framed to do that.


Changing the framework of money conversation is beneficial for two big reasons:

  • It gives context to someone’s current views and behaviors around money.
  • It can transform the existing anxieties about money to understanding where the other person’s views on money derived.


Have your conversations be ones built on respect and understanding as you develop strategies to your productive conversations about money.


One final thought: share your responses to these questions as well…after the person you are engaged in the conversation with is done with their response to the question you asked. Trust is built when people feel listened to and understood. Here is an opportunity to listen, share, seek and offer a bridge to understanding.


Would you like more guidance as move your money conversations from mess to success? I would love to help you! Send me an email at and let me know an issue you are facing with your money. Let’s get you on track to having money conversations that work for you.