Editor’s note: This blog post is essentially a translation of last week’s post that was written in French

Recently I have had the opportunity to reflect on the subject of offering an “informed choice”. It began while I was taking a conflict resolution course in which I had the chance to act as a mediator between opposing parties, in a variety of scenarios.

The course used “interest-based negotiation” as its foundation, and one of the instructors noted that one of the goals of the mediator is to ensure that the parties make what he dubbed “an informed choice”.

I had never thought of it in that way, so I actually wrote it down, in ink, in my course binder, and added the word “BLOG!” beside it. (I actually turned it into two blogs; or a “blogue” –last week, in French- and this blog).

Now taking notes in class is not something that I do very often, since I believe that if something is really important, I will remember it, and if I don’t, it probably wasn’t that important anyway.

But the idea that one of the roles of a mediator is to make sure that the parties choose to accept or reject any offer ONLY after having understood all of the issues and consequences, well this was new and almost revolutionary to me.

Those who know me well know that I believe that communication is the most important subject for business families. Too often the lack of communication and poor communication become sources of major problems for such families.

The result of these communication errors is that people end up making decisions based on perceptions of the facts that are far from informed and clear, but rather erroneous and misinformed hypotheses.

When I work with families that are not at the point of requiring mediation, I encourage them to share their ideas and points of view, and to communicate regularly on these points.

This is always done on the premise that the best choices and decisions are made after reflection, in a situation where each person can say that they are acting with all of the information available, and that they are in fact making a fully informed choice.

Hidden somewere in this whole area is another important point. In many typical situations that require mediation, the parties are unrelated, and one party or the other may have a certain advantage when it comes to the information they have, their understanding of the situation, and the alternatives available.

When dealing with members of the same family, I feel that it is even more important to ensure that each individual has the opportunity to make a choice based on the same facts.

I recently listened to a presentation on the web by a Toronto colleague of mine, Jeff Noble of BDO, on shareholders’ agreements. In it, he mentioned a stunning statistic, saying that according to some lawyers, 80% of shareholders’ agreements prepared by these lawyers are never signed! But why not?

The goal of his presentation was to convince business families to work out their agreements in cooperative fashion, together, while sharing each other’s perspectives. This way, they can arrive at an agreement that each person will actually sign, willingly.

And that is why I title this blog “The Importance of Offering an Informed Choice”, and not simply “The Importance of an Informed Choice”.

What is both very important and sometimes very difficult is to make sure that all parties actually have the proper attitude and the spirit of cooperation necessary to arrive at these truly durable decisions.

You may believe that when you are dealing with members of the same family, it will always be very easy to achieve this, but unfortuately it is not always the case.

Thankfully for those families, there are people trained in mediation, coaching, and facilitating family meetings who are available to help.