What if a Family Meeting Participant Is Disruptive?

It happens in every family—a family member “goes off” about something at a family meeting. Do not feel bad about it or feel your family is unique. This is part of normal family interaction. The key is to be prepared for it to happen and not let it throw off the process.

In our email series on Family Legacy Planning, we have stressed repeatedly the importance of having an experienced, objective third party serve as the facilitator at the family meeting. The patriarch and matriarch should be participants, just like everyone else. A neutral party can moderate the conversation, guide the process, synthesize comments, and shape consensus. Moreover, the family’s trained consultant can help restore calm when feelings are hurt or tempers flare.

Hot topics will invariably emerge. At the outset of the meeting, the facilitator can clarify that when (not if) such issues arise, everyone commits to remaining in the meeting and trusting the facilitator to handle it. Be prepared to deal with disruptions and assertions such as:

  • sibling rivalry
  • jealousy
  • favoritism
  • distrust
  • exclusion
  • feelings that something is “not fair”

(Side note: It’s a difficult concept for some to grasp that “fair” doesn’t necessarily mean “equal.”)

Those feelings are normal and are a part of almost every family’s dynamics. The facilitator can moderate the temperature by acknowledging such issues, but put them in the “parking lot” to address later. Alternatively, the facilitator can call for a break and have private conversations to hear out the views and cool things down.

Unfortunately, there are occasions when things become so hot that a disruptive member prevents the process from being successful. At times like that, you can’t have unanimous participation. It is better for the process to continue with the rest of the family than for the process to stop. The facilitator can communicate the hope to the absent family member that he or she can rejoin the process later.

At The Blum Firm, we have developed a network of consultants to facilitate family meetings. We welcome the opportunity to help you find the right fit for your family.

Marvin E. Blum