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.

Change the Narrative to Connect in Money Conversations Part 1

Money conversations are not always easy. Surveys by the Certified Divorce Financial Analysts show that money is one of the top causes of divorce while Think Health Magazine finds it to be one of the top two causes of divorce.


Dr. Brad Klontz a financial psychologist and associate professor at Kansas State University has found that money anxieties are fostered because people are not generally used to talking about money in a substantive manner. Too often it can “seem like a mind field that can easily go wrong, Brad says.


Couples can find that there disparate upbringing, experiences and expectations around their money spill into their expectations and judgments of their partner’s habits and behaviors. Of course, their partner had their own set of money experiences growing up that they bring into the relationship. Because “much of their beliefs around money are held in their unconscious,” Brad continues, “they really don’t come out to play until you are in a relationship.” These money stories and scripts can play havoc on primary relationships when the current money habits and behaviors play out.


Allianz’s LoveFamilyMoney Study, conducted in 2014 with over four thousand adults, found that financial issues causing the most stress in spouses were: planning for future needs at 76%, covering current financial expenses at 62%, and getting out of debt at 56%. Allianz’s study further revealed that 28% felt they spent too much on unnecessary things, 29% said their financial baggage was difficult to overcome and 23% were not saving enough money.


Resentments can build when the right conversations are not held. It is important for couples who are arguing over money to take a moment to change the narrative. Instead of rehashing the perceived problem expressed by “the other person,” engage in a different conversation about money. Asking the right questions, which we will delve into in the next blog, make a big difference to feeling like you have a strong financial partnership.


How are money conversations in your home? Let me know. If they are precarious, our next blog will introduce conversation tips to transform your home money anxieties to understanding and resolutions.

Buried Emotions around Money were Revealed When…

Because I often host money workshops, I do not have the experience that my workshop attendees (mostly intergenerational members of families) have. It was a delight to be able to participate in a workshop hosted by a therapist.


In this money workshop, we all pretended to be a family. Although none of us were related, it did not take long for emotional dynamics to come into play between us.  


The first direction was to take the bills out of our wallets and give these bills to the host. Immediately questions of trust were unearthed. Would the money be returned? Should I hold back any bills? Who cares, it’s just money, right? were just some of the dynamics that came up.


Next, the host asked for a volunteer to count the money the host was holding. That brought comments like: “How can we trust the counter?” “Are they going to keep the money?” “Can I count the money too to be sure they counted it correctly?”


Next, the host asked for a volunteer to divide the pile of money into seven uneven piles (matching the number of participants.) The host then picked up a pile, gave it to the first person, picked up the next, gave it to the second person and continued to distribute the piles like this until all the piles were distributed.  As you can imagine, this created quite a stream of comments as some felt short changed while others felt like they got a good deal from the initial amount they had given the host. One person felt like a weight had been taken off his shoulders as the pile he got was more than what he had borrowed from another player to give to the host (he did not have any bills in his wallet.) One person left the game frustrated that this was “going nowhere. You’re just moving money here and some of it was my money that I no longer have.”


The host then told us to put any money that we had above the smallest amount a player had in their hand, in a pile on the floor. Each participant now had the same amount of money in their possession. Tension turned to relief and awkward laughter.


The host asked everyone to talk about their favorite charities which we did, one at a time. The host then had us talk about what should be done with the money in the pile on the floor. Should it be returned to the participants or should it be given to one of the charities mentioned by us? We had seven minutes to reach consensus. We did not reach consensus. The host then had everyone pick a number from a hat. He called out a number and the person holding that number was identified. The host then told us we had another five minutes to reach a consensus about what to do with that money or it would go to the person holding the number he called. Still no consensus so the host gave the money in the middle of the floor to the person whose number he had announced.


Two people were okay with the outcome; two people were outraged that their money had been “taken from them”; one person asked what the person who was awarded the money was going to do with their new money? The person with the money said they would either give it to the charity they had defended or they would return it to each participant so they could be made whole. But the group had to come to a consensus on which choice to make. The decision was to give it to the organization that the person holding the money had talked about.


We then debriefed on the exercise, paying close attention to the emotions we exhibited and the feelings we had during the various sections of the money exercise. I found myself noting reactive behaviors triggered by feelings I had as a child around money.


Money exercises are a wonderful way to experience beliefs and emotions around money. You can identify patterns of behaviors that are unproductive and introduce new patterns of behaviors that encourage productive habits and behaviors around your money. Often, we hide and bury these feelings but they can come up in the oddest places.  


If you would like to explore a money exercise with your family or group, let me know. I would be delighted to develop a money workshop for you.