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Don't Let Emotion Choose You

Better decisions occur when we don’t let our emotions get the best of us.

I was invited by a family office to give a presentation to a group of its advisors, which I’ll be doing this morning.

Investopedia defines family offices as follows:

Family offices are private wealth management advisory firms that serve ultra-high-net-worth investors. They are different from traditional wealth management shops in that they offer a total outsourced solution to managing the financial and investment side of an affluent individual or family. For example, many family offices offer budgeting, insurance, charitable giving, family-owned businesses, wealth transfer and tax services.”

I don’t make it a point to give presentations to financial advisors because I haven’t found them to be good referral sources, since shifting the focus of my practice from litigation to mediation a decade ago. This reality is not for a lack of trying on my end; rather, it has to do with how financial advisors tend to view their role and conflict in general.

In fact, in May 2012, the Financial Planning Association of the San Gabriel Valley invited me to present at its monthly lunch meeting. My topic was "Are Attorneys and the Legal System Facilitating the Creation of Post-Divorce Functional or Dysfunctional Families?" The topic was based upon a keynote speech I had given earlier that year. Those in attendance seemed so impressed by the information I conveyed, that they invited me become a member of their organization, which I accepted.

For a couple of years, I regularly attended their monthly lunch meetings and other events. However, I stopped attending when I realized that the information I conveyed to them hadn’t resonated. I knew this based upon the lack of referrals and from the philosophy of the family law firms which its members appeared to support. Nevertheless, I continued sharing my published work in the organization’s LinkedIn and Facebook group. As far as I can tell, the members have no interest in reading that material.

Meanwhile, I continued paying my membership dues because I enjoyed the publications I received as a member of the organization, including the Journal of Financial Planning. The reason I like that publication so much is because there are typically two articles in each edition that educate financial planners about psychological tools that will enable them to assist their clients in making better decisions. For example, the articles covered such topics as the importance of challenging assumptions and perceptions; the fact that beliefs can be based upon faulty information; how biases impact our behavior; understanding and dealing with resistance to change; cultural intelligence; dealing with irrational behavior; the importance of empathy, emotional intelligence, and active listening; and the power of collaboration with multidisciplinary teams.

Interestingly enough, however, when I ask financial advisors how they deal with such issues in order to better assist their clients, their answers are almost always inconsistent with the information conveyed in those articles. At least their lack of interest in my material doesn’t appear to be personal to me; rather, it’s an overall lack of interest in such information.

This year, I finally stopped paying my annual dues to maintain my membership in the Financial Planning Association.

In case you’re wondering why I’m giving a presentation to a group of advisors at a family office this morning, the reason has to do with the nature of the relationship they tend to have with their clients, as well as their job duties, which Investopedia describes as follows:

Providing the advice and services for ultra-wealthy families under a comprehensive wealth management plan is far beyond the capacity of any one professional advisor. It requires a well-coordinated, collaborative effort by a team of professionals from the legal, insurance, investment, estate, business and tax disciplines to provide the scale of planning, advice and resources needed. Most family offices combine asset management, cash management, risk management, financial planning, lifestyle management and other services to provide each family with the essential elements for addressing the pivotal issues it faces as it navigates the complex world of wealth management....

Family education is an important aspect of a family office; this includes educating family members on financial matters and instilling the family values to minimize intergenerational conflicts.”

I’ve found that advisors who work for family offices tend to view wealth management much more broadly than do typical financial planners and advisors. Among other things, they know that litigation is expensive and that if you want to cut legal costs, you should avoid it. After all, hemorrhaging such huge sums of money unnecessarily isn’t good wealth management and it tends not to enhance their clients’ financial situation.

Because individuals working with family offices are typically required to invest a minimum of $10 million, the advisors who work for family offices tend to have fewer clients, which allows them to develop a different level of personal relationship with their clients. This is actually one of the reasons why wealthy individuals invest their money through family offices. It gives an entirely different meaning to client-centered wealth management, and the advisors tend to be far more comfortable addressing sensitive subjects such as strife in their clients’ marriages and relationships. The nature of the relationship enables the advisors to develop a deeper understanding of what’s important to their clients and why. As a result, they are able to involve the most appropriate experts.

In addition to litigation being expensive, “research has demonstrated that life course transitions such as divorce, experienced by members of one generation, will have consequences for members of other generations.”

That being said, it bears mentioning that “about 30 percent of dissolving marriages involve couples who have minor children.” Furthermore, according to Bill Eddy, a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of High Conflict Institute, as of 2014, “the average age of children when their parents divorce is around six or seven.” This doesn’t even include the approximate 57 percent of births that occur outside of marriage.

My point in sharing these statistics is not to suggest that couples should stay together for the sake of their children because doing so has its own consequences. While there’s no question that children would prefer and benefit from parents who are in happy and healthy stable relationships, it’s chronic parental conflict that harms children, not the divorce or dissolution of the parents’ romantic relationship itself. Furthermore, chronic parental conflict can and does occur in intact marriages and relationships. In addition, what message do parents model for their children when they cause them to believe that loveless and unhappy marriages should be life sentences because of the vows the couple took when they married? How do you think children feel if they realize or even believe that their parents only remained together because of them?

Speaking of parental modeling, consider the following excerpt from The Reflective Parent by Regina Pally:

“Infants and children learn what to do from the people around them. In this way they can acquire the specific skills they need to survive wherever and with whomever they are born….

Children need to be taught the specifics of how to be social within the family and wider culture they are born into; namely, the social rules, customs, and belief systems of their family and that culture. This social learning is filtered through the parents, who teach their child their personal interpretation of what is most important for the child to know….

Our sociable human nature does not necessarily mean being outgoing and gregarious. It means being able to engage and relate with and relate to other people. It is not about the numbers of people you engage with; it is about how you relate, in terms of empathizing, being cooperative, and considering other people’s point of view….

Children learn not what their parent tells them, but how the parent relates with the child. The relationship is the lesson to be taught!...

Part of teaching children to be moral and inhibit their hurtful or selfish impulses involves helping them be aware of and feel the hurtfulness their own behavior can cause others….

Children learn more from imitating the social and nonsocial behaviors of others than they do from instruction and being told what to do. Your child will observe you and copy almost everything you do, both your nonsocial and social behaviors….

As much as possible, behave the way you want your child to behave. Of course, some behaviors are appropriate for adults and not for children. These behaviors in your child will require limit-setting. But what if the behavior is answering your cell phone at the dinner table or not cleaning up after yourself or yelling a lot? You have choices now. You can either accept the behavior in your child, or you will have to modify these behaviors in yourself….

Being a reflective parents requires you to try your best to keep your emotions from getting the better of you.”

Along those same lines, according to social science researcher Brene Brown, "When we let emotion choose us, we are more times than not moved away from our values, moved away from our authenticity, and we move into choices that we're not proud of."

Modeling of such behavior has very serious consequences that were set forth in Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project’s report titled The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values that was published in 2014. The report stated in pertinent part as follows:

Selfishness and indifference to others among both children and adults are commonplace. Too often, students who are different are mocked or bullied, too many children are disrespectful to both other children and adults, and too few children and adults feel responsibility for their communities ... Our findings suggest that youth’s fundamental values are awry ... Youth appear to value caring for others less as they age ... When children don’t prioritize caring, they’re also less motivated to develop the social and emotional skills, such as empathy, needed to treat people well day to day ... [Instead,] they are at greater risk of many forms of harmful behavior, including being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest. These forms of harm are far too commonplace...

Any healthy society depends not only on developing in youth the urge and ability to care for others but also on instilling in them other ethical values. Perhaps especially, a civil and just society depends on developing in youth a strong commitment to fairness...Our research suggests that we are not preparing children to create this kind of society...

At the root of this problem may be a rhetoric/reality gap, a gap between what parents and other adults say are their top priorities and the real messages they convey in their behavior day to day...Can we as adults ‘walk our talk’ about child-raising? After all, almost all of us believe that raising caring, ethical children is crucial. It’s also no small matter that adults’ basic credibility is at stake if young people, with razor sharp alertness to hypocrisy view us as saying one thing while consistently prioritizing something else. Moreover, the costs of inaction are high, given not only the risks to both our children’s social, emotional, and ethical capacities and happiness but other threats, including increasing political factionalism and incivility at a time when we face huge problems that need to be addressed collectively...

The solution is straightforward, but not easy. To begin, we’ll have to stop passing the buck. While Americans worry a great deal about children’s moral state, no one seems to think that they’re part of the problem. As adults, we all need to take a hard look at the messages we send to children and youth daily.”

Is the solution really making it more difficult for people to divorce? How’s that play out, considering how people tend to handle their relationship issues?

Unfortunately, most couples wait much too long to reach out for help repairing their marriage. According to relationship and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help. Think about this statistic for a few minutes. Couples have six years to build up resentment before they begin the important work of learning to resolve differences in effective ways.”

Gottman, a world-renowned relationship expert, has spent 40 years researching “marital stability and divorce prediction” and has made his research available to those interested in learning from it.

Over the years, I’ve quoted Gottman in quite a few of my articles, including Tips for Improving a Co-parenting Relationship, The Impact of Relationship Apps On Family Dynamics, What’s Communication Got to Do With... Lasting Love?, and most recently, Empathy Is the Key to Conflict Resolution or Management.

A great deal has been written about the fact that when spouses feel compelled to win their arguments with each other, they end up losing their relationship. It would behoove us to keep this in mind because the need to ‘win’ arguments is not conducive to happy marriages, positive family dynamics, or interpersonal relationships of any type.

When people are involved in conflicts and disputes, they have a binary choice as to whether they want to approach them cooperatively or competitively. Litigation (court) and litigated negotiation are adversarial approaches, which makes sense, considering that we have an adversarial legal system.

The adversarial system of justice works to resolve cases in court by pitting partial advocates for each side against one another with a judge who works to ensure that rules of court and law are followed.”

As explained in You Think You’re Helping, Do You?, our adversarial legal system is itself a form of violence.

Meanwhile, a great many organizations and people, myself included, have spent an immense amount of time providing the public with information from which they can make informed decisions regarding the various dispute resolution processes and approaches available. In fact, the Chapter I authored that was included in Inside the Minds: Strategies for Family Law in California, 2013 ed., published by Aspatore Books, a Thompson Reuters business, July 2013 was titled A Comparison of Dispute Resolution Methods Available in Family Law Matters.

Most recently, Moving Past Divorce published an article by Karen Covy titled Litigation, Mediation, or Collaborative Divorce: Which is Right for You? Her article concludes as follows:

Choosing the right divorce process is one of the single most important divorce decisions you are going to have to make. Unfortunately, your decision is often not easy or clear. There are pros and cons to every divorce process. Plus, getting solid information is often tough.

The most important thing you can do when you are thinking about divorce is to educate yourself. Take the time to research the various divorce processes. Talk to lawyers who litigate, and those who do collaborative divorce. Talk to mediators. If you can, talk to your spouse. Get as much information as possible before you decide which type of divorce process to use.

Doing this may seem tedious and time consuming. But it just may help you from making your divorce way worse than it needs to be.”

In 2013, I was invited to write an article for Expert Beacon with the working title Healing from past relationships so it doesn't affect your current one. I wrote the article as if it were titled Heal from Past Relationships to Help You Move Forward with Your Life. However, the publication titled the final article Heal from past relationships to help you move on and find love. Irrespective, as has long been said, you should never judge a book by its cover. The article I wrote is not specific to romantic relationships and therefore doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with finding love, although it can be interpreted as broadly or narrowly as desired. In any event, the article concluded as follows:

The way in which we handle the past impacts our future. We can either learn from our experiences in order to improve our lives or we can take on the role of the victim. Keep in mind, however, that we cannot improve our circumstances if we merely blame others for our fates. Although we cannot change the past, we do control our future. We can either allow life’s challenges to control to us, or we can rise above them. If we focus on the negative, we become embittered. By focusing on the future, we can feel empowered. Always remember that the best revenge is living a wonderful post-break-up life.”

Interestingly enough, there are common themes running throughout my published work and one of those themes involves the consequences of the choices we make. One such choice is whether we’re going to approach conflicts and disputes cooperatively or competitively.

The following is a quote from my article Cooperation or Combat? The Choice Is Yours!, which was also included in a recently published article of mine titled The Choices We Make Create History, So Choose Wisely:

“As a result of our adversarial legal system, the law (as practiced) is all about winning and not about the truth. Generally speaking, the law itself is neutral - lawyers and their clients turn it into a win/lose dynamic.’

The problem is that a win/lose dynamic is combat and lawyers are trained for just such combat. They are not trained for cooperation and the personality types attracted to the field tend to be competitive, at best.”

The following is an excerpt from an article of mine titled The Cause and Effect of the Historical Shift in the Role of Attorneys that was published in 2010:

Historically, a lawyer's role was peacefully resolving disputes, not creating them. A reversal of that role seems to have occurred as a result of a change in the type of individuals entering law school. According to a June, 1997 article from the American University Law Review entitled, ‘Lawyer, Knowing Thyself: A Review of Empirical Research on Attorney Attributes Bearing on Professionalism’, since around the 1960's, ‘individuals who chose to enter law school have a low interest in emotions or others' feelings.’ In 1984, in response to this change, Warren Berger, then Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, while speaking about the American legal system to members of the American Bar Association, said, ‘Our system is too costly, too painful, too destructive, too inefficient for a truly civilized people. To rely on the adversary process as the principal means of resolving conflicting claims is a mistake that must be corrected.’ Chief Justice Berger also stated that ‘The obligation of our profession is, or has long been thought to be, to serve as healers of human conflicts.’ When he made those remarks, Chief Justice Berger was approximately 76 years old and had personally witnessed the change in the legal profession.

According to the American University Law Review article, it is well documented that since approximately the 1960's, those individuals interested in practicing law do so to pursue wealth and power and not for the purpose of addressing social issues and problems or helping others. In fact, studies show that a law student who was ‘concerned chiefly with people, who values harmonious human contacts, is friendly, tactful, sympathetic, and loyal, who is warmed by approval and bothered by indifference and who tends to idealize what he admires’ was more likely to drop out of law school than were those students who were less warm and agreeable. Moreover, such individuals tend to be a small percentage of the student body population of a law school from the outset. In addition, ‘law students are insecure, defensive, distant, and lacking in maturity and socialization.’ As if that were not bad enough, ‘law students' morality’ is less concerned about ‘justice, fairness, equality, and social utility, rather than the formal rules.’ It has been found that ‘law students disproportionately rely on analytic, rational thought to make decisions, rather than focusing on the emotional or humanistic consequences of their decisions.... A disinterest in emotions and in interpersonal concerns appears to exist long before law school, even though it may be intensified during law school.... As a result of their legal education, ‘students may ignore the social and emotional consequences of decision-making.’”

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown discussed what she referred to as the Viking-or-Victim mentality “in high-performance, super competitive cultures like law.” More recently, the American Bar Association published an article titled Competitive nature, stress mix to produce drinking, behavioral health problems among lawyers.

Meanwhile, last weekend, I read a half page article published in the Daily Journal, California’s largest legal news provider about a family law firm that does “God’s Work” in family court with “its weapons ready but also but also chooses empathetic side." I almost choked reading the title and ensuing article because I’m very familiar with that firm. In fact, one experience I had with that firm was referenced in a recent article of mine titled Are Illusory Agreements The New Trend? While negotiating a premarital agreement drafted by an attorney at that firm, I was told “Welcome to the adversarial world of family law.” In addition, I was advised that “[my] opinion doesn’t carry much weight in this community” and the attorney had no interest in my opinion whatsoever. This is also the same firm about which I’ve written in the past because the founding partner doesn’t think attorneys can use empathy in their work because be believes it conflicts with their role as zealous advocates for their clients. Mind you, disregarding the wishes and opinions of others, let alone advising them that you have no regard for their wishes and opinions is the antithesis of empathy.

Because of my published work on empathy, a key component of compassion, I was asked to participate in the scheduled for July 13, 2017 in London, England. The symposium is being presented by the Law & Compassion Research Network, founded by Associate Research Fellow Dermot Feenan at University of London's Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

Meanwhile, in the United States of America, if you say something enough, it's true. After all, we're living in a post-fact world.

Regardless, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing and developing personal and professional relationships with those individuals who work diligently to help their clients to keep their emotions from getting the better of them. After all, as Brene’ Brown says, "When we let emotion choose us, we are more times than not moved away from our values, moved away from our authenticity, and we move into choices that we're not proud of."

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