We work with our clients to help them with change, with whatever the change may be. It could be succession, it could be wealth planning, it could be cultivating leadership -- whatever it is, it is change. When change is introduced, regardless of what that modification may be, emotions are heightened. The intensity can skew positive (excitement) or negative (dread), but either way, the automatic tendency for people in such situations is to become reactive to other family members and to other situations in a way they might not when they are not under stress. When stress levels go up, as they do with any transition (with highly productive as well as highly stressful periods) the need to practice self-awareness is all important. As advisors, we need to help the people we work with, as well as our selves, to get back to our own center: as an advisor, there is as much need to help settle family members in the system as there is with helping to go through whatever change you were hired to help with in the first place.
I was recently reminded of how easily we can become reactive. My husband and I took a trip to England and Wales. It was a delightful trip. As we were driving on the left side of the road, with a right-handed steering wheel, on a two-lane roadway, I became what I would describe as reactive (my husband might choose different words). I was anxious for most of the drive. My husband had been doing quite well with the driving situation, actually, but I couldn't settle myself down enough to enjoy the scenery. In fact, every time we came to a roundabout where we needed to "give way" to the driver on the right, I would tense up.
We then came to Wales, a lovely country -- spectacular really -- but I was still in a heightened mode from driving anxiety. Now we were on hilly, wind-y country lanes. We did not know the terrain, it was exciting and exhilarating, but we had kind of a large and clunky (re: old diesel) vehicle and our trip was more jack rabbit and nerve-wracking than fun. I was reminded how that lends itself to change within a family system: new and different, hilly and wind-y which could be exciting for some, but nerve-wracking for others. The anxiety produced by those who experience the change as bumpy creeps into the experience of others. The anxiety spreads to each member of the system until they, too, start to feel uneasy. The beauty of the situation, the beauty of the surroundings is lost in the anxiety of not knowing.
We ended up stopping in a beautiful town, Bewts y Coed. I think my husband needed a break from me gripping onto the door. I was trying very hard to relax, but the tension on the drive was thick. We each got lost in our thoughts and each wandered off alone, getting ourselves back to a settled state. We had the ability to breath and smile and take in the beauty around us. It is so easy to react and so difficult to interact, especially when we are in the unknown and a bit scared.
How much do you help your families (or yourself) get back to center? How does a family reach that state of being? It has to be done individually, yet part of a larger whole. Are you paying attention to the whole by watching the individuals? Helping others to recognize the need to pause, look around and enjoy and get back in, is particularly helpful in heightened anxiety situations. While you are in the midst of helping families with their transitions (whatever those may be) don't forget to also help them to take breaks, sit back, recognize the beauty in the situation and in their surroundings. Help them to get back to center so they can interact instead of react.