Sunday, December 26, 2010
Thinking Within the Box: Facilitated Dialogue without the need for Conflict
My parents, 82 years young, are beginning to recognize that they want the input of their adult children in managing their lives: business investments, tax and estate planning, cooking, driving, traveling. This morning we took advantage of the holiday week to all gather together for breakfast and a business-type meeting. Before going, I gave some thought to structuring the discussion in a mediation like way, but without the conflict. It was tricky: my brother and my husband clearly anticipated that I would unwittingly create or highlight conflict when there wasn't any. Instead, it worked this way: We began with my Dad, the patriarch, expressing some of his concerns and interests. I took notes and then invited the others sitting round the table to chime in. In the end, I set an agenda with 14 items (and we addressed only 7) ranging from "ground rules" including privacy from the next generation to a framework for regular commuication (Semi-annual meetings with our generations only--which my brother will "convene" via email in May and beginning of December). Because there were no real interpersonal disputes, it was more a useful tool for setting up a basis for future communications and accountability. (Who will check in to make sure they are eating well and are protected from financial predators, for example?) Mom promised never to drive to a family event in an evening without first checking with my nearby daughter. Dad promised that if they travel home at night they will arrange for someone to pick them up at the airport and not wait for a cab who may not be willing to drive them since they only live a short distance from the airport. My husband agreed to discuss some real estate issues with their accountant before they decide how best to characterize a taxable event that occurred in the past year and affects some family property. I submit that for my mediator friends, this was a useful way to engage our skills and expertise outside the world of conflict--but in a way that I am proud to say was highly appreciated by my brother and sister and their spouses and my terrific parents. It started as a difficult conversation, but once we put it in a familiar (to me) framework, it worked smoothly and paved the way for whatever more difficult conversations will inevitably follow.