In last week’s blog, I mentioned that I would soon be attending a workshop on “Dealing with difficult people. I spent some time on whether it is the people who are difficult, or just their situations, as well as the wisdom of trying to avoid difficulty indefinitely, in the hope that things would just improve on their own.

This week I was in Toronto for the workshop, and it provided me with a lot of great tools and ideas that I will surely put to good use. One of the memorable take-aways for me was something that was not only unexpected, but after I wrote it down, I could not even recall what caused the course leader to add it to the flipchart in the first place.

What I do remember is that while debriefing a roleplay we had just done, she wrote down the words “Courage & Dignity” in thick black marker. Something compelled me to write those words onto the page I had created in my binder for important ideas that I wanted to recall in the future.

We had been working on the idea that before entering into a discussion that would likely be difficult, it is usually a good idea to do some preparation. What is the goal, what emotions might be evoked, are their any identity issues that could come into play, those sorts of things.

My take was that while it was certainly a good idea to prepare, going in with a long list of ideas was not the best approach for me. To my way of thinking, summarizing the preparation in a few words was a better way to guide my approach.

The one word that grabbed me was “courage”. How many times have you been in a situation where your brain knew that there was something important that needed to be addressed, but you could not bring yourself to say the words required to bring the issue to light?

So my first take-away was to remind myself to summon the courage required to actually get the tough issues on the table.

And what about the dignity?

When we bring forth difficult topics, often someone will be put on the defensive. We probably want to avoid this, which is likely why the subject has been left unaddressed for so long.

But just as it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable, it is possible to have a mature discussion, about just about any topic, where you make sure that everyone leaves with their dignity intact.

What do I mean by having your dignity intact? People do not usually like to feel like they have been attacked, and they rarely feel good when they feel like they have lost something.

Personal attacks should be avoided at all costs, and so should win-lose situations. It takes some emotional maturity to do things in a way that everyone can leave a difficult discussion with their head held high, but it can be done.

In a business family, the people who need to discuss sensitive issues are often relatives, and they are sometimes from different generations. This combination of familiarity and built-in hierarchy can make these discussions very tricky.

Believe me when I say that I fully understand why it is difficult for Junior to tell Dad that there need to be some changes. Been there, done that.

But if Junior can summon the courage, and be mindful of Dad’s dignity, he is much more likely to be successful.

And if he can’t do it alone, he should enlist the help of others, either from within the family, or from the outside.

Enter with courage, and make sure everyone leaves with their dignity. Good luck.


Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.