COVID-19 has changed the ways families spend time together, and this new reality has created a unique set of challenges. Limited travel, working from home and online schooling will continue to be a part of our lives. Effective communication has become essential.
“What COVID-19 really brought forth was an awareness that communication is challenging,” says YPO member and founder and managing partner of Teleios Commodities, Brandon Schwertner, whose family has been hosting weekly family meetings for nearly nine years. “I believe in this digital age that we live in, the single greatest competitive advantage we can give our children is how to communicate on a deeper level, face-to-face.”
One way to create a safe, open and supportive environment that helps promote meaningful communication and build family unity is through family meetings. YPO members use a similar technique via forum, a small, tight-knit group that forges deep, trusting relationships, allowing participants to share and offer support on the most delicate business and personal issues. Families can use and practice similar tools of positive communication, active listening, conflict resolution, perspective sharing and bonding by bringing YPO’s forum process into the rituals of the family conversation.
In this safe environment, family members can create shared values, parent-child relationships are enhanced, and family members create lifelong relationshifts. Family forum provides a safe space for each family member to work through his or her own issues, while developing and practicing empathy, compassion and understanding with other family members. It is also a great opportunity to learn about one another and enjoy quality time together.
Following are tips for creating a forum-style meeting in your family.
Build a circle of trust
Begin by discussing how you will communicate as a family. For example, a family may set down rules to listen deeply, respect confidentiality and be honest. Those values help build a circle of trust that “gives children the space to share openly and freely with their parents,” says director and catalyst of nowhere in South Africa, Janet Goldblatt, who is also a YPO forum facilitator. “Those rules of engagement need to happen before you even start the meeting to welcome and honor of everyone’s place in the family.”
Find your family purpose
Create a family vision together so that each member becomes an active, willing participant at the outset. It is important for all family members to see their purpose collectively and individually within the family. It gives children a sense of belonging and place as well as an understanding of their uniqueness, Goldblatt says, and provides a point of reference when working through individual and family issues.
Be your own guru
“Make the meeting and exercises work for your particular family,” says Goldblatt. “Bring your own power and uniqueness as an individual, as a parent, as a child, to co-create your own exercises.” By bringing the children in as co-creators of the meeting, you are developing their own self-worth and helping build their capabilities.
Check in with everyone
Check-ins set the tone for the meeting. Using a “feelings thermometer” exercise provides an instant check on the overall mood of every family member and gives children an opportunity to express and share their feelings freely without holding back. The thermometer is a co-creative exercise where all family members express their feelings by putting a place holder over the word that depicts their feeling. Words are selected by the family members and are used as a check-in tool. “Often children hold back their feelings in order to not upset a parent,” says Goldblatt. “Encourage children to speak their truthful feelings so the meeting can be authentic, which creates open sharing.”
To ensure all family members are active, willing and included participants, have each family member take charge of certain aspects of the meeting. For example, give your children an opportunity to choose the exercise for the meeting. “Kids like to be empowered,” says Schwertner. “It also breaks down hierarchy to have them lead and be involved.”
Share your stories
Rather than giving advice, share personal experiences that may help a family member deal with a similar situation. “Tell the stories of when you were a child,” says Goldblatt. “Because when you were a child, you weren’t leading a business. You were like them.” Storytelling helps break down barriers and creates a sense of belonging. “You have the ability to get on the same level so they share things and you can help them navigate challenges that you’ve been through,” says Schwertner.
Lead with vulnerability
By being vulnerable, you give your children the opportunity to be vulnerable with you. “Sharing that we as parents have our own challenges — we get upset, we cry, we’re happy — and having a place once a week to express that creates a deep sense of connection,” says Schwertner. “They get to see all sides of me and by leading with that, I get to see all sides of them.”