Just tell me what to do.

A prospective client asked me a valid question the other day; one which got me to thinking. His question, in two parts, was this:

"I know mediators don't give advice but don't people need to be told what to do?"

Not at all! That is the beauty of having a family meeting. Families work together to figure out what is best for them. A family meeting puts a mediator in charge of guiding the conversation, not the decisions that come from that conversation.

"But if they are deciding on their own, why do they need a family meeting?"

Because family dynamics change.

Imagine you are working for a company. When you need direction, you look to your boss. You go into work each day and know what role you play. You have co-workers and each of them plays a different role in the success of the company. You are all good at your jobs and work well together.

Everyone is happy.

Now imagine one day you arrive to work and your boss is gone. He (or she) is not coming back and can't be replaced. How would your work change? Who would you look to for direction? Who would take over the boss's responsibilities? How would your co-workers adapt?

A family is a system, just like a company. Each family member plays a role in the family's success. What happens to the family when a member leaves or can no longer perform his or her traditional role?

Divorce. Illness. Death. Aging. Disability.

These are just some of the life events which can up-end the apple cart, forcing us out of the roles we are comfortable and experienced at playing.

Let's think again about our imaginary company. In the wake of the boss's departure, the employees are struggling. The company is in jeopardy and everyone has different ideas about how to fix it. The employees are all good workers - just the same as they were before the boss mysteriously disappeared. They are just stuck and in need of guidance. The company calls on a mediator to get them back on track.

Should the mediator step in and take over as the boss? It might help for the moment to have someone filling that role but the mediator can't stay forever. Once the mediator leaves, they will be right back where they started.

Should the mediator appoint people to various roles and decide how the company should be run? It might help to have someone directing again but the employees know much more about the business than the mediator does.

Wouldn't it be better in the long run if the employees collaborate and decide together how the company should adapt and move forward? The facilitator's job is not to solve the problem but to serve as a guide in search of the best solution.

No, people don't need to be told what to do. It is better for families to collaborate and make decisions together. It is the highlight of successful family meeting: showing families that they can work together and be successful on their own - without anyone else telling them what to do.

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