INTRODUCTION: As you know, the United States is implementing a three-phased approach to reopen the economy after stay-at-home orders are lifted. Similarly, the way families are responding to this crisis seems to be following a three phase process as well; specifically, in the way we are communicating with one another. During Phase One of this unprecedented experience, we’ve been stunned, watching anxiously, and unsure what to think, feel, or do, and our conversation has reflected that reality:
Are you okay? The kids okay? Good. Yeah, we’re okay too.
Are you finding everything you need? Toilet paper? Me neither!
This is all just so crazy, isn’t it?
Just as the US is saying it’s time to open our economy, it’s time for us to open up family conversation again. In Phase Two conversations, we grapple together with honesty about our response to this current reality. Yes, it will require courage and wisdom and we can’t really be certain of the outcomes, but it is exactly what is needed in order to be agile, responsive, and connected in these unprecedented times. To navigate your Phase Two Conversations, we recommend the following activity:
ACTIVITY: A Share and Tag Conversation uses a set of prompts for conversation with your family members (virtual or in-person depending on your circumstances). Instructions are listed in following:
1. Invite your family members to a Phase Two conversation – Schedule a time for your family to connect – for those who are not residing in the same household, plan to connect via video conference. Be sure to share the purpose of the meeting. Sample Script: “These unprecedented times, as difficult as they are, offer an opportunity for our family to connect and have some conversation about what’s most important to us. To this end, I want to suggest we schedule a time to connect in the next week. During this meeting, I’d like to carry out an activity I came across recently. In preparation, open the attached conversation prompts and select two prompts you’d like to share with us during the meeting. I look forward to the opportunity to hear from you all and enjoy some meaningful time together.” Don’t forget to send the Conversation Prompts along with your message!
2. Open the Conversation Prompts and prepare your own thoughts. Save any major business or estate related updates you may have considered sharing with your family members for a separate conversation. This meeting is simply about connecting meaningfully with your family members.
Consider your approach for this conversation with your family members. A NY Times article, “The Stories That Bind Us“ summarizes research from Emory University that illustrates the idea that there are three different ways people share stories with their family members – these styles are captured below:
“Ascending Narrative” – Things just get better and better for us.
“Descending Narrative” – Things just get worse and worse for us.
“Oscillating Narrative” – We’ve had our ups and downs, but through it all we’ve always stuck together as a family.
In the Emory research study, children who were told family stories in an oscillating narrative style had the strongest self-confidence and, more specifically, they have what the researchers term, “a strong intergenerational self.” The lesson we learn from this research is that, while it’s good to share our highlights and positivity with family members, it’s also essential to share honestly about our experience of the tough times – and the current situation is certainly qualifies.
As leaders in our families, we often feel pressure to present a stoic, ‘I’ve got everything under control’ front in an effort to offer reassurance, but one way we can model leadership is to authentically share appropriate bits about the challenges we experience along the way so that our family members, especially those in rising generations, can learn from the values you lean into during hard times. So prepare to show up ready to share in the spirit of the “oscillating narrative”.
3. Gather your family and play the video below as an introduction to your meeting. If you are meeting via digital video, screen share this video when you are ready to begin the activity. If you are meeting together, print the conversation prompt cards and bring them along to your meeting.
4. Thank your family members, by email or text, for attending the meeting, and be sure to follow-up promptly on any parking lot items.
5. Follow us on LinkedIn for other tools and activities to use with your family members.
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