March 12, 2015

Top Seven Steps to Successful Succession Planning

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  1. Start Early. Most families don’t talk about a plan for the continuance of the family business. Even fewer complete a plan that can be successfully carried out. Developing a good plan takes time, often years. The sooner you start with succession planning the better. Begin discussing the issues before a crisis.
  2. Communication. Ground rules need to be established and the best way to do this is to involve a skilled non-family facilitator or mediator who can lead the necessary discussions. Potentially high emotions will need to be kept under control, the conversations kept on topic and various relationships respected. It is almost impossible for anyone personally involved in the succession planning issues to manage all these elements in a safe and neutral manner.
  3. Involve all stakeholders. Successful planning includes all family members in the discussion. Make sure attention is paid to the personal feelings, ambitions and goals of everyone concerned and do not let your expectations override their needs. Treat all family members as individuals and do not assume they want the same things as you do or as each other.
  4. Seek the advice of outside experts. Your lawyer and financial adviser can help you put together a succession plan. However, don’t ignore the emotions and family conflicts that play critical roles in the success of your family business succession plan. Silence, not talking about succession, ignoring the emotions and conflicts in the family, these are the main reasons why family business succession planning often fails.
  5. Document values, wishes and goals. Having these included is a much better way to flesh out the intention behind legal documents which can be dry. And besides people will more easily remember family mantras like “Whatever you do, don’t fight” than a clause in a document about dispute resolution.
  6. Implement the plan. Start implementing the plan as soon as possible so any unforseen consequences can be dealt with in a timely fashion and whilst those in control still have the power to change it. It is always going to be far better dealing with these issues in a productive manner around the boardroom table than in the morgue or the divorce courts.
  7. Review the plan. Things always change. The law and relationships certainly do. Plans put in place several years ago should be reviewed to ensure they can achieve what they aim for in light of the positions of the stakeholders and the law.

March 11, 2015

Notes from Bernie’s radio interview with Tony Delroy’s Nightlife on ABC Radio 702 on Tuesday 10 March.

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Click here to download the Podcast


What is it about succession planning that strikes fear into the hearts of the most resilient of human beings? Why is it that too many farmers and family business owners let death, divorce or illness make their succession planning decisions for them?  Tonight we are joined by psychotherapist and mediator, Bernie Bolger and Estate Planning Lawyer and qualified Financial Planner, Donal Griffin, as we explore exactly what is it about succession planning that sees it top the list, year in year out, for the task most avoided by family business owners and farmers alike.


As the cliché goes, there are only two things we can be sure of in this world – death and taxes! Surely succession planning would make the inevitability of these events less painful?

Spoken like a true homo economicus!  That assumes that we are all rational human beings and history has shown us time and time again that we are not!  Only 30% of family businesses make it to a second generation and only 12% to a third. Why is that? Succession planning done well is messy – it involves emotions and conversations and conflict and egos – it is much easier to just have a beer at the end of the day and discuss the footy!


Emotions and Conversations between whom? Are you suggesting succession planning involves more than the will being read out about a week after the demise of the head of the family?

That might have worked in days gone by when the eldest son was the automatic heir. However nowadays with a higher level of education available to all family members, increased job opportunities outside the business and the recognition that the women in the family might actually be better qualified to take over the reins into the future, inheritances have become an awful lot more complicated.  And this is before we have even spoken about the ‘in-law factor’…


But surely a decent lawyer and financial adviser working together can draw up a water tight document which will make sure the wishes of the patriarch are followed and to hell with non-believers?

Therein lies the problem.  Succession planning is not just about taking into account the wishes of the owner– a good succession plan must also take into account the expectations and needs of all the relevant family members and ultimately get the buy-in of all the stakeholders.

Most families think of succession planning as three issues: management, ownership, and financial. Left out of the discussion is the reality that all succession planning is fundamentally emotional. There is absolutely no point in a farm or business being left to one family member if that is going to cause irreparable family rifts, turning brother against brother and mother against daughter.  Even though the will supporting this scenario might be clear, that to me would be abject failure.

Not only is there no success in that particular succession, the law in Australia gives most disappointed family members the right to challenge a Will. This means that the parties can communicate through lawyers which rarely helps and usually makes things worse.


It all just seems too hard.  We all know you can never please everyone so what can we possibly do to get this right?

It all starts with communication.  Which sounds easy but is actually what stops the process getting started in the first place.  People find it extremely hard to talk about money and wealth at the best of times but layer it into a mix of family – both in-laws and out-laws – differing expectations and understandings around contributions to the business, fears of being judged as being too greedy, fears around what will happen if you don’t want to be part of the business, fears that all will not be equal amongst equals and it is easy to understand why families falter at the first hurdle. Even easier to understand why the beer and footie conversation is a very attractive option!  So in order to make sure the important conversations occur in a productive manner – families need to realise that this conversation is probably one of the most important they will ever have and set aside the time and space to have it properly. All the research shows that investing in the skills of a good facilitator is going to increase exponentially a family’s chances of doing this well.  Someone who can speak to all stakeholders in a safe manner and understand the values, needs and goals of each person separately and as a family.


So what can a facilitator do that a selected member of the family can’t?

The big difference is neutrality.  A facilitator comes in without an agenda or a bias towards any particular outcome. Family dynamics and politics are always difficult and what we are trying to do with succession planning it to get honest answers from all stakeholders.  Assumed expectations are a killer.  Perhaps a business has been in a family for generations – think how hard and scary it might be for the fourth generation to actually say ‘I really don’t want to have anything to do with it’.  Think about the guilt, the pressure to carry on the family tradition and in many cases it’s easier to just conform and get on with it – condemning oneself to a life without passion.  And there is the other side of the puzzle.  Perhaps the current owner recognises that his son / daughter does not have the tools to run the business and an outsider would do a better job.  But he doesn’t know how to say this in case it’s taken in the wrong way and so he says nothing.  And even if a formal meeting is convened but is run by a family member – these issues are still unlikely to be addressed.


Where do you see the place of professional advisers in this? 

It is really important to brief the professional advisers as soon as possible in the process, whether that be an initial consultation to just to let them know this is what you want to do and possibly also to introduce them to the facilitator. The more collaborative everyone is, the higher the probability of a positive outcome. Often a person who runs a business or a farm is a strong personality and is used to doing things their way. When choosing a professional adviser, it is important to select someone who will challenge the person so that they make informed decisions, with an eye on how those decisions are likely to be received. I see lots of Wills which are most likely written by the client with the lawyer simply as an enabler or allowing the use of their firm’s name on the back page.

Understanding the drivers and values behind different stakeholders’ needs and goals can help advisers also adopt less of a zero sum or win/lose approach and put more effort into creative problem solving.

Whether you own a business or farm, time is either your ally or your enemy. You can spend time planning for succession during your active business or farming lifetime, or postpone planning and wait until the more chaotic, uncertain and expensive succession planning occurs post-mortem, when the choice is no longer yours.

The lesson? Start early. Select your successor(s), and work with a financial and legal professional to develop a succession plan before it’s an issue.


I’m still not convinced that everyone’s needs can be met.  What happens if after speaking with a facilitator it is obvious that e.g. three out of four siblings want to take over the business?  We all know that sometimes decisions have to be made and having too many chiefs at the helm will interfere with this process.

At the end of the day hard decisions need to be made but it is still better for these to be made while the owner is alive and conversations are still possible.  It is also important to understand that managing and owning a business are not necessarily the same thing and getting paid market rates for jobs done irrespective of ownership is an important key. Lowering expectations early in the day and being clear and transparent about the succession plan enables people to make informed choices e.g. if the major asset is the farm with little liquidity, it is better understanding upfront rather than finding out after 20 years on minimum wage that it does not make financial sense to start subdividing the farm to support the lives of all the siblings and their dependents.  Decisions about staying or going can be made at the start of working lives rather than half way through.


Staying with the farm issue, is it possible to set up structures so that all family members can be looked after even in the absence of liquid assets?

The best structure to look after more than one family member is a trust. It establishes the difference between decision makers (the trustee) and the people to be looked after (the beneficiaries).

In a very simplified way, the trustee’s role is to consider the needs of all of the beneficiaries and distribute the income and capital from the trust when the trust deed and the circumstances (cashflow).

Even creative lawyers cannot magic cash out of a trust if there is none there and the assets are illiquid and cannot easily be converted to cash. However, a trustee could refinance the illiquid assets and get a mortgage or overdraft to either pay money to the beneficiaries from time to time or invest a separate amount of capital into a separate trust or sub fund which is invested in liquid investments which do produce cash.

One issue with farms is that they are dependent on crop yields or markets and they may have several bad years in a row, with not much cash flow. Asset rich but cash flow poor.

It may be that the trustee is directed by the patriarch or matriarch to borrow money themselves in order to have that money given to the other family members. This can be the price for them to be the trustee and not be under pressure to find resources to distribute to other family members.

Alternatively, the patriarch or matriarch may allocate separate assets for the family members who are not living with the trustee. These assets could come from life insurance policies.


And what about the dreaded D word?  How do we protect the family business and assets from those pesky, money-grabbing in-laws?

Every person who sets up a trust has to set out the beneficiaries. In some trusts which are bought off-the shelf the list of beneficiaries is very broad and includes spouses of all of the beneficiaries. The first thing that should be done to protect against spouses is for them not to be beneficiaries. It is best that this is done at the start of the trust as changing beneficiaries later can have negative tax consequences.

However, in Family Law proceedings the Court has jurisdiction to look at trusts and may determine that they are in effect property of the family or a resource of one of the parties to a marriage. This is a very complicated area but, at Legacy Law, we can advise clients how to do this.

One other way is to ensure that any family money given to a household in which there is an in-law in residence is given by way of a loan, rather than a gift. Again, at Legacy Law, we have written an article on this and invite your listeners to get in contact with us if they would like to get a copy of that.


Given that so much of our identity is wrapped up in our work, how hard is it emotionally for a successful business owner to just hand over control?  How hard is it for them derive meaning and purpose from other aspects of life?

And once again we can explode a myth.  The beauty of a well-executed succession plan is that it is not an all or nothing scenario.  It is exactly what is says it is – a plan with milestones and timeframes. Implementing a plan over time gives the various stakeholders a chance to get used to the idea of change.  It gives the successor a chance to take on more responsibility in a structured fashion and make mistakes along the way. At the other end of the spectrum it gives the owner a chance to develop other interests and ways of creating a legacy.


Is thinking carefully about succession important even if there is no family business or family farm?

The short answer is yes.

Even if there is not a business or a farm, there may be a family trust which holds family wealth. In our experience, very little thought is given as to how to transfer control of these structures to the next generation. Without careful consideration, it may be that one only of the siblings gets total control of the trust and, people are disappointed to discover that neither the law nor a Will can bind them to act in a particular way.

There have been several cases recently reinforcing that the trustees of discretionary trusts and superannuation funds have very broad discretionary powers and even though there are clear conflicts of interest, the person in control can quite legally act in a way which results in them getting all of the trust assets.

We all learn from experience and are lucky to see the different experiences of many families. It is often universal and learnings from different parts of the world are often very relevant here.

We curate ideas and we are bringing together some thought leaders including a man called Alan Crosbie who has written a book called “Don’t Leave it to the Children” at a conference in London in October this year (yes, just before the Rugby World Cup semi-finals) if any of your listeners would like to hear how people in the rest of the world manage these difficult issues.

Alan points out that we are unreliable judges of our children’s skills, particularly not only when running a business, but also when running a trust. Their financial needs, motivations and abilities may be very different from each other. Unaddressed,that usually ends in irreversible family conflict which is not the legacy most people would want.





November 20, 2014

How to Separate Well

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Listen to the Podcast of Bernie Bolger and Jackie Jones speaking on Tony Delroy’s ABC 702 Nightlife

How to Separate Well

With one in three marriages ending in divorce and a three year waiting time for the courts to sort out who owns what, including the kids, there has to be a better way for separating families to draw a line in the sand and move on with their lives.

In this hour we’re talking with Bernie Bolger relationship counsellor, family mediator and Collaborative Practitioner and Jackie Jones Accredited Family law specialist, UTS clinical practitioner and Collaborative Practitioner about the alternative, less conflictual paths which families can take to end their relationship as it is and move on – as totally separate individuals or as co-parents if there are children involved.

When a relationship runs into trouble, what do you see are the first things that a couple would normally do?

I think most people would assume that marriage counselling is the ‘normal’ first step for couples to take when their relationship starts going awry. However research says that less than 5% of couples actually seek professional help when cracks start to show. And of those 5%, most of them wait six years before they do so. Given that half of marriage break downs occur within the first seven years, the earlier couples seek outside help the greater the chances that the relationship can be saved. The most devastating financial and emotional event to happen to a couple and family is the breakdown of a marriage / long term relationship and so I would urge everyone to consider counselling before moving on to the next steps. Of course there are certain abusive relationships which are toxic – be it emotional, physical or financial – and in these cases it may be better for everyone involved and especially for the children, that the adults involved separate.

So if the relationship is irreparable, what do you see are the next steps – is it straight to court all guns blazing?

That is such an important question and what a couple does next can set the tone for the next 20 or more years of their lives. I cannot stress enough how important it is that everyone gets proper legal, financial and emotional advice. One of the most common mistakes a couple makes is to try and get their relationship counsellor to mediate an arrangement for them. Unless the counsellor is an accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP), this is akin to getting your doctor to give you a filling. He’ll probably be able to do it but the result is going to be a hell of a lot more clumsy and the process a lot more painful than if you had gone to a dentist in the first place.
So in the first place I would suggest that a couple try Family Dispute Resolution or Mediation. It is very different from counselling and the skills involved are quite separate.

So what exactly is Family Dispute Resolution?

The Federal Government is committed to increasing the awareness and provision of alternatives to litigation, especially for family law disputes. For many families, post-separation is a life crisis that requires a holistic approach from service providers.

Family dispute resolution (FDR) is the term used in Part II of the Family Law Act 1975 to describe a process in which a family dispute resolution practitioner assists people affected, or likely to be affected, by separation or divorce to resolve some or all of their disputes with each other. Before filing an application in court for parenting orders, it is a requirement to attempt FDR in parenting matters unless an exception applies e.g. family violence or child abuse.
Family dispute resolution allows couples or families to have difficult conversations in a safe, calm and controlled environment. It enables separated couples to discuss and then make their own decisions about how they would like to resolve their post separation issues whether it be in relation to their children or in reaching an agreement in regards to property & financial settlement. It is a future focussed, impartial and non-judgemental process.

A mediator’s job is about finding common ground and reopening communication channels, even when this may seem like an impossible task. And the best thing about mediation is that it is totally confidential and should a couple be unable to come to a resolution, any of the discussions or offers made during the process cannot be used against them should their case end up in court. Case notes from a mediation, unlike counselling, cannot be subpoenaed.
But the breakdown of a relationship doesn’t just involve adults. In fact over 30,000 families with children are affected by divorce every year. How can we make sure that their needs are heard?

It is really important that the children in a separating family are looked after. When parents are in conflict, they can easily, though often not intentionally, lose focus on the children – particularly when they are emersed in the disagreements of the breakdown with the hurt and anger guiding their decisions. . Obviously the best case scenario is when the parents can agree about arrangements for the children with an absence of conflict. – this includes agreeing about living arrangements, choices of school, extracurricular activities, pocket money, communication and introduction of new partners to name just a few. Unfortunately in a number of cases the focus is not on the ‘best interests of the child” with children caught up in the conflict sometimes pawns or just leverage of one parties needs over the others.

An important consideration is “the voice of the child”. How can a child be heard in a family breakdown?

One of the best ways to address the impact of the family conflict on children and to take the emotions out of the decisions is to use a Child Inclusive Practitioner (or CIP) in the process.

That sound interesting – can you tell me how it works?

Child Inclusive Practice provides an opportunity for children to talk independently with a trained Child Consultant in a safe, supportive and comfortable environment.

Child Inclusive Practice can be integrated into a family breakdown prior to the commencement of any court proceedings.

The Less Adversarial Trial process in the Family Court also has provision for CIP.

During the session, the Child Consultant facilitates a conversation with the child and encourages them to talk about the separation, domestic arrangements and other related topics. Depending on the age of the child, the Child Consultant may use play therapy during the session. The Child Consultant is not judgmental, suggestive or adversarial in tone. The purpose of the session is to gain insights into how the child is feeling and provide a forum in which they can comfortably express themselves.

After the session, the Child Consultant provides feedback and recommendations to both parents in a one hour session. This feedback is then used as a guide and reference throughout the Family Dispute Resolution process.
Generally speaking, Child Inclusive Practice is relevant for school age children, from 5 to 15.

But even with all these interventions, sometimes mediation still breaks down. Are there any other alternatives to litigation where some people end up spending 100s of 1000s of dollars and who knows how many hours of emotional toil just to prove that they are right and their ex-partner is wrong?

Fortunately in the last few years an alternative has become available in Australia. It has been used in the US and the UK for a number of years but it is definitely gaining momentum here and it is known as Collaborative Practice.
I found this definition on the Law Society of New South Wales Website and I think it encapsulates the spirit of it extremely well. ‘Collaborative Practice is law without litigation, and mediation with advice.’ It is a dispute resolution process in which the parties, their lawyers and a neutral coach (for an interdisciplinary model) enter into a contract (the Participation Agreement) to resolve a dispute without resorting to litigation.
Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice is a unique dispute process as it offers a ‘team’ (lawyers, a neutral coach, a child consultant (if appropriate) a financial expert or any other professional that may be appropriate) to guide, advise, and support parties achieve an outcome.

How does this work? A lawyer not wanting to litigate??

The first point to remember is the lawyers, the neutral coach and the parties enter the collaborative process with a commitment to achieve an outcome.

The parties and all collaborative practitioners who sign the participation agreement, commit to an open, honest and transparent process. It is an integrated problem solving approach using interest based negotiation – a focus on the interests and needs of the parties. All of the negotiations are conducted in meetings (the number of meetings depends on the complexity of the matter – the issues that arise or exist between the parties).

The Participation Agreement provides that the lawyers will no longer act for the party if the collaborative process breaks down. This provision has the effect of focussing all of the participants to the negotiation on reaching a resolution. It removes the temptation for the parties and their lawyers to posture and/or commence litigation when an impasse arises. Instead, the parties, their lawyers and the neutral coach must focus on working together to overcome the impasse. It can be a challenging process especially when parties are working on outcomes

The agenda for each meeting is pre-determined by the parties and the collaborative practitioners. Between meetings the parties, their lawyers and other professionals work together with their clients to ensure that all of the information relevant to the agenda is available in advance of the meeting. Similarly, the collaborative practitioners consult with each other before the meeting and debrief afterwards.

An important aspect is the use of the neutral coach. In family law matters it is often the non legal issues which are driving or causing the problems. A good example is school holiday times – how it is to be shared or even pick up times. Rather than lawyers being involved in every aspect the parties can speak with / meet the neutral coach to discuss parties concerns, needs and desired outcomes.

This has a financial benefit to parties as the lawyers do not need to be involved in all aspects and allows the neutral coach (mental health professional) to assist the parties with what is essentially a non legal issue.

But doesn’t this cost a fortune – having two lawyers and a neutral coach at every meeting?

Granted, it is more expensive than mediation (depends on the number of meetings) but it is a lot less expensive than going to court and a lot less emotionally destructive. Ending a relationship is not just about a division of assets – it is also about dealing with the emotional fallout that comes with the demise of a relationship. Collaborative Practice, especially when a professionally trained neutral coach is included, allows for the rebuilding of empathy between ex partners. When this occurs it is no longer a zero sum game. Each person gains an insight into the other person’s needs and desires and works towards gaining the best outcome for the family as a whole. When all parties work together, it inevitably becomes a much quicker process and therefore lawyers’ hours are reduced. Decreased hours equals decreased costs!

It is a forward focused process – assisting parties with a team approach.

What in your mind is worst case scenario for separating families?

The breakdown of any relationship is difficult.

The court system is the last resort for separating families. Parties will experience
• extensive delays,
• increased costs – legal fees, experts whether in parenting or financial matters
• uncertainty of outcome

Whilst the majority of matters will resolve by agreement in the time between filing an application with the court and a court allocated final hearing date, the impact on their own life, their relationship with each other, their children and other third parties (extended family members, new relationships) is not a positive one.

I am sure many of our listeners are going through this process as we speak. What would be your Top Five Strategies to Separating Well?

  1. In the first place, make sure your relationship cannot be repaired. Don’t kid yourself – divorce is hard and no-one comes through it without any lasting emotional and financial scars.
  2. Choose your lawyer well. If you want to have an amicable separation, make sure you don’t choose a lawyer who has their own agenda and that is about destroying your ex-partner and running up as many billable hours as possible. It is imperative you get good legal and financial advice because you can’t run a proper negotiation unless you are properly informed.
  3. Explore FDR as your first option, especially if there are children involved. All the research shows that mediated agreements are more sustainable and longer lasting because they are your agreements and have not been imposed on you by an overworked Judge in a very busy Family Court.
  4. If you feel that you need to involve Lawyers – look at Collaborative Practice. Just like FDR, you have a part in working out these agreements and therefore are more likely to be happy with them long term.
  5. Never forget the children and what is in their best interests. Don’t fall into the trap of using them as pawns in your War. Children whose parents have separated with minimal conflict show no behavioural, emotional or academic disadvantages when compared with children of a low conflict intact marriage.


Collaborative Professionals NSW www.collabprofessionalsnsw.org.au

Central Sydney Collaborative Forum www.sydneycollablaw.com.au

September 11, 2014

Sex, money and relationships with Bernie Bolger at Happiness & Its Causes 2014

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June 20, 2014

For the love of Money – Tony Delroy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 10:25 am

Listen to Bernie Bolger talk about “For the love of Money” with Tony Delroy on `6 June 2014.

Click here to listen

Happiness Conference 2014

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Following on from her success at the 2014 Conference where she wowed and engaged about 1000 delegates with her keynote presentation, here are Bernie’s Ten Tips on how to Talk about the Taboo Topics

Top Ten Tips for Talking about Taboo Topics (Sex and Money)

  1. Discover your Values (with Safire’s Values Cards). Your partner wants night sex but you’re a morning person. You want a family vacation but they’re worried about private school fees. What do you trade off? How do you make a decision that affirms both of you? By knowing your values. But discussing values is tricky. Safire’s Values Cards (available at the bookstore or online via bernie@berniebolger.com.au) are a great way to engage each other and the family in this exercise. It is very important that one partner’s values are not compromised in the honouring of the other’s. By discovering your life priorities, you are able to develop individual and joint goals which are aligned with your values. Making you happier. Much.
  2. Respect and Understand Differences. Know yourself. Understand your own habits and attitudes about sex and money. Are you coy and penny pinching? Or flirtatious and extravagant? Do you like to have lots of sex and spend little money, or are you all about lust and thrust but not about spending? Don’t assume your partner has the same attitudes and values. Have an open conversation about all things taboo – including flagging any STDs (sexually transmitted debts or diseases) you may be carrying. We are all influenced by the families we grew up in. A fun way to start a conversation might be to talk about the childhood messages we were exposed to about cash and passion.
  3. Financial Independence. As unromantic as it sounds, the happiest couples maintain a degree of financial independence within the relationship (Ask them – they’re the ones always smiling). Remember to keep a little bit of ‘me’ within the ‘we’ of the relationships. So even if there is a joint bank account for joint expenses, there are very good reasons as to why each partner should maintain their own individual bank account at the same time. Financial Infidelity is more likely to occur if you amalgamate everything and then never speak about money matters again .
  4. Acknowledge Financial Vulnerabilities within the Relationship and Assume Joint Financial Responsibility. Taking time off work to look after kids can lead to long-term financial vulnerability in terms of financial independence and superannuation. Acknowledge this as a real issue. Don’t assume that this is the role of the mother. In this day and age, many women have studied long and worked very hard to attain a certain level of career success and don’t automatically see it as their place to give that up. Open and honest conversations up front can save on a lot of heartache down the track. Just because one person gives up a paid career, doesn’t mean they become a second class citizen in the financial stakes. A very equalising idea is to have a percentage of the paid working parent’s salary transferred into the non-paid working parent’s bank account. S/he who has the money has the power, so this is a way of keeping the financial power differential at bay. It also helps to attend all financial meetings together. Be selective. Only engage financial advisers who understand your values and respect both of your roles in the relationship, irrespective of who is earning the dosh.
  5. The Magic Ratio. After observing thousands of interactions between couples, relationship guru, Dr John Gottman, discovered that the ratio of positive to negative interactions for a couple is a critical barometer of how healthy and stable a relationship is. At a minimum, couples need a ratio of five positive comments to one negative. So it takes five good things, like taking interest, asking questions, being engaged and paying a compliment, to outweigh just one negative action, like a harsh word or a raised voice.The brain has an inbuilt bias to notice and react to negative stimuli. Gottman found that negative interactions have more power to cause pain than positive ones have to heal and repair.The magic 5:1 ratio trains your brain to see the good in your partner. By building up a reservoir of positive emotion and goodwill, happy couples are able to identify and focus on the things they love about each other. They realise their relationship is bigger than their most recent misunderstanding. Try it. Use it. It works.
  6. Physical Intimacy. According to renowned psychologist, Sue Johnson, we are neurologically hardwired by millions of years of evolution to find a mate, to love and cherish, to be attached and connected. The neurochemicals released by hugging and hand holding are designed to foster feelings of calm, love and attachment so that the one you have chosen as your mate wants to stick around. When things aren’t going well, we feel rejected and emotionally disconnected. We feel lost, abandoned, isolated and stressed. The stress hormones rise and the supply of loving, calming chemicals plummets. With a partner to hold our hand, negative events, while stressful, can bring us closer. Jim Coan’s research also reminds us that hand holding is more than a symbolic gesture of trust and affection. Scientists at the University of North Carolina made similar findings. They asked a number of couples to hold hands for ten minutes and then to hug each other for twenty seconds. Another group of couples were instructed to sit quietly without touching. Immediately afterwards they were all instructed to deliver an impromptu speech; that’s about as stressful as it gets! The huggers were the ones who reacted most calmly: their heart rates stayed lower and so did their blood pressure. It’s so easy to stop hugging and touching your partner when life gets busy – and they are simple ways to keep the channels open, to show you care. Being affectionate is like filling an emotional bank account. When things go pear-shaped, there are funds to draw on to get you through.
  7. Different Sexual Response Cycles. Take the time to understand the difference between men and women’s sexuality. There is an old saying that men become intimate to have sex and women have sex to become intimate. Dr Rosemary Basson is credited with discovering the female response cycle. She claims that a number of women engage in sex without initially feeling sexual desire, either to please their partners or to create intimacy, and having sex then fuels their desire. But so often, being uninterested in sex means that women find excuses to avoid it. So it is really important that their partners do something to awaken a response in them. And that something has got to be more than the ‘hand creep’. According to the Hite report, every positive thing a couple does together can be seen as foreplay and therefore part of sex. Even reading this is foreplay. Read it to your partner. Slower, slower… that’s it.
  8. Five Languages of Love. Understand how your partner likes to give and receive love. Marriage counsellor Dr Gary Chapman came up with the idea of ‘love languages’. He suggested that we have a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. He outlined five defined ways individuals do this.
    • Words of affirmation (compliments, words of appreciation, praise)
    • Quality time (spending time together, giving undivided attention)
    • Receiving gifts ( presents, cards, symbols)
    • Acts of service (housework, childcare, fixing something)
    • Physical touch (kisses, cuddles, massage, sex).
    Leading Australian sex therapist, Dr Rosie King reiterated this with her five ‘Ts’ concept – Talk, Tasks, Time, Touch and Tokens.
    To find out more, take this fun questionnaire online: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/
  9. Make Sex a Priority – The Six Second Kiss. You can spot a new couple a mile away – they are the ones who are all over each other, PDA’s a plenty, no matter where they are or who else is around. Maybe it is time to start paying attention to your kissing. Kissing is good for your health and for the health of your relationship. It reduces stress while at the same time boosting your sex life, keeping your loving feelings alive and fostering a sense of comfort and satisfaction with your partner. So what’s going on when you kiss? The lips are the body’s most exposed erogenous zone. Packed with sensitive nerve endings, even a light brush sends a cascade of information to our brains helping us to decide whether we want to continue and what might happen next. Electric impulses bounce between the brain, lips, tongue and skin which can lead to the feeling of being on a natural high because of the potent cocktail of chemical messengers involved. These are the same bunch of chemicals that flood our bodies in the first throes of romantic love: the feel-good neurotransmitters such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and oxytocin. Leading relationship researcher, John Gottman recommends incorporating a six-second kiss into your everyday life. It tells your partner you care about them and expresses your love for each other. And other researchers have found that couples that kissed regularly and often, not only felt better about each other but they had lower stress levels than those who kissed less.
  10. Relationship Coaching and Conversation Facilitation. This is hard stuff and yet most couples wait on average seven years before they ask for help from outside advisers. This would never happen in the Corporate World – you can see the headline news – Chairman and CEO sacked for failing to ensure the future of the Company. And yet the breakdown of a marriage can potentially have much more devastating consequences on a family. So don’t dally – call in help early but make sure your counsellor is fully equipped to deal with both the emotional and financial aspects of the relationship.

March 3, 2014

8 Misguided Mistakes Wealthy Parents Make… and 8 Smart Strategies to Grow Resilient, Passionate Kids in Affluence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 2:45 pm

By Bernie Bolger and Hadass Segal

In a world of material abundance, we parents are doing our best to raise self-disciplined, appreciative, and resourceful children who are not spoiled by the prosperity around them. So why does it seem that the more we give them, the more ungrateful and entitled our children become? How can we use the advantages they already have to move them from striving to thriving?

thebossOur own parents sent us out to play and didn’t call us in until dinner was ready. Someone always came home with a black eye or a nail in their foot. But wearing a pirate patch didn’t stop us from going back out again: one-eyed but still filled with wonder. So why has parenting swung so far towards protecting our kids that we are preventing their growth and thriving? And how can we help them benefit from the opportunities we have worked so hard to give them?

The team at Safire Consulting has drawn on our clinical experience, together with cutting edge psychological research, to compile a list of the 8 mistakes wealthy parents make… and the key strategies to grow resilient, passionate kids in affluence. From apathy to empathy, from resistance to resilience, from rebels with a cause to renaissance kids with a conscience.

1. MISTAKE: We cotton-wool our children from experiencing risk

Safety regulations, legal litigation and a heightened awareness of the dangers in our environment have turned us into hyper-vigilant over-protectors. The “safety first” obsession plays into our fear of losing our kids, so we do all we can to shield them from harm. But we may be insulating them from healthy risk-taking behavior. If a child doesn’t play outside, climb too high and fall, they frequently have phobias as adults. They learn that the world is an unsafe place in which they cannot trust themselves or others.

STRATEGY: Let your kids explore their environment rather than the Internet. Norwegian psychologists found that children who play in physically and emotionally stimulating and challenging environments that involve risk, grow into better adjusted and more confident adults.

Encourage your kids to try a new skill, especially if it frightens them. From public speaking to rock climbing, kids need to fall a few times to learn it’s normal; teens need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to understand the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.

2. MISTAKE: We rescue too quickly

Ever been the recipient or sender of a message to a fellow parent trying to sort out your children’s’ friendships? While this may look like sticking up for your child, it deprives them of the chance to stick up for themselves.  And it’s moved far beyond the playground. University lecturers like Dr Brene Brown (University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work) and Dr Carol Dweck (University of Stanford) are shocked at how frequently the parents of their POST-graduate students call them to ask if their 20-something child can get a re-mark on an exam.  By swooping in and intervening on behalf of our children, we are depriving them of the opportunity to encounter an obstacle and navigate around it.  We are robbing them of the skills needed to solve problems independently. We are offering short-term relief and long-term low self-esteem. With the best of intentions, we are disabling our kids from becoming competent adults.

STRATEGY: Let your children solve their own problems.
Guide your child through a series of open questions towards finding their own solutions to their challenges. You are there to support and console them, but not to fix the problem. From a tough friendship dynamic to an academic concern, ask your child to brainstorm ways of solving the problem, all the while supporting and nurturing them.

 STATEGY: Let your children make their own relationship mistakes.

Telling your children who to befriend or date will leave them feeling rebellious or powerless. You may not like the latest paramour with the glazed eyes in the skinny genes, but asking – rather than telling – your child how they feel about will help them make better choices.

3. MISTAKE: We praise too easily

Since when did everyone get a prize in Pass the Parcel? Life is about winning and losing, not just winning. Research shows that kids stop feeling special when everyone gets a prize. In fact, it makes it harder for them to be objective about their successes and failures. When Mum and Dad are constantly telling them how clever/pretty/talented they are, they doubt the objectivity of their parents and learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it.

In “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee”, Dr Wendy Mogul points out that we need to appreciate the paradox that our children are both ordinary and unique.

STRATEGY: Praise for Effort not Result

The American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a recent study by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck, researchers at Columbia University. The study found children who were told they were smart became more vulnerable to setbacks.

“Praising children’s intelligence, far from boosting their self-esteem, encourages them to embrace self-defeating behaviours such as worrying about failure and avoiding risks,” said Dr. Dweck, lead author of the study.  “However, when children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance and self-esteem.”

In the studies, the children were given an exam with several different problems to solve.  All children were informed that they did very well on the test – no matter how well they actually did.  Some were given statements like, “You must be smart at these problems,” while others were told, “You must have worked hard at these problems.”

When the children were allowed to choose a task, those told they were intelligent tended to choose assignments they knew they would do well on, while the second group chose tasks they thought they might learn something from.

“Children praised for intelligence preferred to find out about the performance of others on the tasks rather than learn about new strategies for solving the problems,” the researchers said.

4. MISTAKE: We try to be friends with our children and treat them all ‘equally’

We’re cool. Our kids are cool. We’re finally becoming great friends. Only problem is, your child doesn’t need a friend in you, they need a parent. We may want them to like us so much that we try to avoid making the tough calls that may disappoint or frustrate them.

With multiple kids, when one does well, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward them unless we also praise and reward their sibling/s. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to enforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions and good deeds.

STRATEGY: Parent your children don’t befriend them

Remember: your child does not have to love you every minute. Sometimes they need to be disappointed and frustrated by you in order to understand that conflict and boundary-setting are part of any healthy relationship. Your kids will get over the disappointment of not going to the hottest party or buying the latest gadget, but they won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So tell them “no” or “not now,” and let them fight for what they really value and need. Be careful not to teach them a good grade is rewarded by a trip to the shops. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love. The only context appropriate for parents and kids to be ‘friends’ is on Facebook!

STATEGY: Parent each child according to their needs

Your children have different shoe sizes, different wants and needs and different personalities to their siblings, so you can’t parent them as if they were the same person. When we mistake ‘fair’ treatment for ‘the same’ treatment, we actually increase sibling rivalry. Treat each child as an individual and celebrate their uniqueness.

5. MISTAKE:  We don’t give them permission to fail and strategies to bounce back

Healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and fly. But like Icarus, they may get too close to the sun and burn their wings in the process.

Privileged kids often feel added pressure not to fail as they have been given opportunities that others don’t have. We may want to stop them from making the mistakes we made but we should be mindful not to prevent them from finding their own paths.

STRATEGY: Share, don’t impair

Help your child navigate their challenges by sharing approaches that you find useful. Prepare them to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Be careful not to preach and avoid sharing negative “lessons learned” to do with smoking, alcohol or drugs. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.

6. MISTAKE: We privilege IQ over EQ

With many of our children at high-achieving private schools, it can be easy to focus on IQ and ATAR rather than emotional and social intelligence. Intelligence is often used as a measurement of a child’s maturity. Parents assume an intelligent child is ready for the world. That’s not the case. Just because giftedness is present in one aspect of a child’s life, don’t assume it pervades all areas. Developing a child’s emotional and social intelligence is as important as focusing on their academic success, and will stand them in good stead in their future careers and relationships.


Attune to your child’s emotional needs. Just as you would help them if they were struggling academically, make sure you aren’t neglecting what they need to emotionally thrive. Simply putting aside your agenda and actively listening to them can go a long way.

Teach your child about empathy by involving them in charities and volunteer work. Ask them to call an elderly relative and have a conversation with them. Encourage your child to make eye contact when talking to others.

7. MISTAKE: We don’t practice what we preach

As parents, it is our responsibility to model the life we want our children to live. Children are very capable of pointing out the double standards we have and are the first to catch us out if we tell them to do as we say, not as we do.

Strategy: Live in your integrity

If we want our offspring to be accountable for their words and actions, we have to be too. Watch yourself in the little ethical choices that others might notice, because your kids will notice too. If you don’t cut corners, for example, they will know it’s not acceptable for them to either. Show your kids what it means to give selflessly and joyfully. Work on your own passion and commitment and your kids will learn to be passionate and committed. Notice how you speak about work and relationships. If either is perceived as a chore, your kids will learn to dread both. Communicate clearly, respectfully and honestly. There is no point shouting at kids that they have no manners or respect when you are demonstrating the same trait.

Leave people and places better than you found them, and your kids will take note and do the same.

8. MISTAKE: We give our kids our money, not our time

This one is the trickiest. We work hard and we’re time poor. There is always another email to answer, another phone call to make, another fire to fight. We may be doing all this hard work so our kids can benefit but when we rush from the chaos of the day to the structured holidays of a resort back to the madness of the year, we miss the sometimes-banal-sometimes-wonderful ordinary moments that our kids crave with us. We may compensate by buying them wonderful gadgets or throwing them great parties but nothing makes up for time. If we’re constantly fobbing them off, our kids learn that they are last on our list and they start to de-value themselves and act out to get our attention.

STRATEGY: Prioritise time with each other

Schedule it in if you have to. Turn the electronics off and have a real conversation. Speak about the highlights and lowlights of your day, ask them about theirs. Make your questions count, and listen to the answers. Ritualise family time so that everyone knows Saturday afternoon or Thursday evening is just for the nuclear family. Don’t let them down and they won’t let you down. The greatest gift you can give them doesn’t come with Intel inside.


December 19, 2013

Surviving the holidays

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 8:57 am

It may be the season to be jolly, but for many people Christmas is more akin to a headache than a joy. The pressure to buy presents, cook the right food, and make it through with the extended family. Or the reminder of a lost loved one. The following Q & A session with psychotherapists Bernie Bolger and Hadass Segal  as presented on Tony Delroy’s Nightlife on ABC Radio 702 on Monday 16 December 2013 gives us some helpful tips for survival.

Listen to the podcast on Tony Delroys Nightlife

Surviving the holidays

The fairy lights are twinkling, the eggnog is almost ready and the reindeers are gearing up for the big journey from the arctic. It all seems delightful, so why do so many of us find the holiday season so challenging? In this hour we’re talking with psychotherapists Bernie Bolger and Hadass Segal about the tips to overcome holiday stress and make the most of what can be a joyous and rewarding season.

What is it about the holiday season that stresses people out? Isn’t this meant to be the time we look forward to all year?

It’s a combination of expectations and a sudden ramping up in pace.

December is the month of lunacy.  Everyone wants to catch up with you before Christmas, even people you haven’t seen all year. Work deadlines have to be met and it suddenly becomes imperative that they’re done BEFORE CHRISTMAS. And then there’s the shopping.  Having worked in retail for a very long time, quite frankly people appear to go utterly mad. We place a lot of pressure on ourselves and others to come up with the perfect gift. And if we get it wrong, we fear the repercussions on our relationships.

Why do we place so much pressure on ourselves to get the right gift?

Gifts are a way of showing people we know them and value them. They’re tokens loaded with symbolism.  Spending a fortune on something our loved ones don’t value makes us feel unappreciated and taken for granted.

On the flip side, getting a gift that you can’t stand makes you feel like the person giving it doesn’t know you or value you at all. A gift is an opportunity to show someone you understand their need. My advice is – make a family rule around a price limit that everyone has to adhere to. Then do a bit of research beforehand and sneakily get a sense of what they would want.  And try to give experiences rather than things – we are all overwhelmed with stuff we don’t need. Instead of buying stuff, buy people experiences. Movie tickets, a restaurant or massage voucher, a dance or music class or  and if your budget is very small, a homemade voucher in which you pledge to spend an afternoon doing their activity of choice with a loved one can be much more memorable than an expensive gadget. As long as that activity isn’t shopping!

Another tip is to take the emphasis off the gift and onto the words in the card. Ask everyone to write a card that acknowledges some of the strengths of the recipient and maybe a story or memory that you share with them. Those words will resonate for a lot longer than any gift you can buy.

What about our health during the holiday season? How can we enjoy ourselves without destroying ourselves in the process?

The holidays can become about excess – we overspend, over-eat, drink too much and sleep too little. Our usual exercise and food routines are interrupted and we can tend to let everything slip and then regret it. But as with anything, a bit of moderation goes a long way. And that involves planning. If you know you’d die rather than miss out on Aunty Madge’s Christmas pudding, plan to eat smaller, healthier meals before you go to Aunt Madge’s house. And use any time you have off work to go for a walk. Try to walk in an area you wouldn’t normally visit if you have time, or reintroduce yourself to your neighbourhood park if you don’t. Take advantage of our gorgeous beaches and make your catch up with friends and family include a dip in the water. And if all else fails, up your dose of multivitamins so you keep your immunity high.

For a lot of people, the biggest stress involves their relationships with family. Why are there so many family fights around this time of year?

When the decorations go up, the gloves come off! Christmas Eve arrives and at about 6pm it’s all over.  All that is left to do is go home and spend time with the family.  And in some cases this is great but for others – there is nowhere left to hide.  No late nights at the office or no running around with the kids to the soccer pitch or music lesson.  No – couples who have been really good at avoiding each other all year are suddenly confronted with the fact that they have days and days of togetherness to look forward to as many of them have to take their annual leave between Christmas and New Years. And they just can’t do it.

Then when extended family is involved, people are suddenly thrust together with people they haven’t spent more than a couple of hours with all year. Our siblings and their families might have very different parenting styles to us, and suddenly we’re at the frontline, watching each other and often judging or feeling judged.

Plus there’s the tendency to slip into the old family dynamics no matter how old we are. So we know how to push each others’ button. I have a client who is an incredibly mature successful businesswoman, but her older brother insists on calling her “baby betty” when he sees her.  Add alcohol and baby Betty can have a major tantrum. I have heard 50 year olds tell their 80 year old mother “she started it”!

So how do we deal with those tensions?

It seems that few of us are immune to the occasional family spat and many of us will experience even long term ongoing tension within our family.

Arguments may start over everything from when exactly decorations should be allowed out of storage to whether or not a hot lunch is appropriate in Sydney on a 40 degree day. Add to this the “factions” that can develop within larger families along with a good dose of general family angst and you have a recipe for disaster.

Family involves a lot of emotion and even a lot of history. Most of your family know which buttons to press (or not press) and you know the same about them.

In addition to this, we don’t tend to be very polite with our family so manners go out the window and honesty steps in.

Remember that when you have an emotional response that your body is likely going into fight-flight-freeze mode which means that systems throughout your body are kicking into action. Many years ago this would have helped you flee from danger and hunt down your dinner but it doesn’t help you to carve a roast or have a civil conversation with a sibling so you may just need some time out to cool down so you can deal with the situation in a level headed way.

 The 7 Holiday Survival Tips

  1. Most important of all – maintain a sense of humour!
  2. Be a good guest – respect the rules and values of the house.
  3. Before you walk into the situation, spend a few minutes thinking about how you want to behave.  Don’t just react in the moment; consider how you want to act. If you’ve had unpleasant experiences in the past, think about why they were unpleasant and what you could do to change the dynamics of the situation.
  4. Choose your battles. Ask yourself, is it worth it? How big a deal is this really? If other family members are being negative you can make the decision to step back and not let yourself be affected by this. If its not worth mentioning or getting into a fight about, let it go.
  5. Listen more than you talk. You don’t have to agree with the person you are talking to but you also do not need to prove that you are right about everything. On Boxing Day, would you rather be looking back at the fun you had as a family, or reflecting on your victory over Uncle Max’s political views? A little “Mmhmmm”, “Oh?” and “I can see how you feel” goes a long way.
  6. Take a break and offer breaks to others if it seems like they need it. If someone is getting on your nerves, take a quick drive to pick up some more ice. If a Mum in the family is looking overwhelmed, offer to take the little ones outside for a game.
  7. Remember that Christmas is meant to be a fun time and that it is not just about pleasing others. At the same time, it is important not to put too much pressure on yourself to be feeling hunky dory all day long. It’s ok to feel annoyed, frustrated or upset by how family members are behaving but making them feel the same way will probably only make matters worse. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the slightly humid but still festively pine scented air.


This is a time of milestones and rituals. What about those who are coping with the loss of loved ones for whom this is a difficult reminder?

This is such a difficult conundrum. For some people, traditions and rituals are very, very important.  In fact research would say that in the long run, they tend to help sustain happiness and family bonds.  But for others these rituals can be a painful reminder of the loss of someone special, especially if the loss is a recent one. So the question is how can we honour one person’s needs and desires without offending or upsetting someone else?

Empathy plays a huge part in dealing with this.  If this is the first Christmas without a loved one, there is no point in pretending it isn’t.  There will be a lot of firsts throughout the year and acknowledging them as we move through them is probably the safest way to deal with the emotions.  One thing is for sure – suppression and denial is not a strategy.

While some of us can’t stand to be forced together at Christmas, for others being far from our families can be lonely and isolating. What are some tips for coping?

Plan ahead.  Don’t expect to be miraculously rescued on Christmas morning.  So if you know you are going to be without family, be strategic and organise an Orphan’s Christmas.  Guaranteed you will not be the only one of your friends who is alone. Remember it only takes one person to be proactive and organise a gathering.  Alternatively let your friends or work colleagues know that this time of year is actually hard for you because you are far away from home and family – you might be amazed at how many invitations to lunch you get.

And then there is Skype – book in a time with far away friends and family to connect through the wonders of technology. The best part about it is there is an ‘end’ button.

And for those who don’t have a break at all? How do we avoid getting resentful if we are working over Christmas? What are some tips to actually enjoy working through?

Funnily enough, a lot of people who work over the holidays enjoy it. There is generally a sense of goodwill and generosity amongst co-workers who spend this time together.  Again the research shows that doing something which enhances the lives of others actually increases our own sense of wellbeing.  So try to reframe why you are working and see it as a positive. Gratitude is also a great strategy which can help us feel better about ourselves. Be grateful you have a job – there are many people out there who don’t…

The reality is, not many people are actually rostered on throughout the whole holiday period and in a lot of cases, most employers give holiday priority to parents of young kids.

And then there are those of us from different cultures who don’t celebrate. About those who feel left out of the dominant culture?

There are many cultures – Islam, Judaism, for example – for whom Christmas is not an event. For some it can be a relief not to have the pressure of hosting or attending family events. But for others, it can be a reminder of not fitting in to the main stream. Many of my cliens come from a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas but I always encourage those who don’t celebrate to see if there is anything of value that they can relate to in the season. If we get back to the core meaning of the festive season, it’s about giving not getting. So even if you have no connection to the religious aspects of Christmas, if you can focus on generosity of spirit, or doing something charitable, you will find it rewarding. There are lots of charities and soup kitchens who would welcome volunteers on Christmas day – who better to volunteer than those who don’t have to be at their own family events?

So how do you explain to the kids that they won’t be getting presents like their classmates are?

I think it’s a great opportunity to teach your kids respect for other cultural and religious paradigms. It’s a chance to show them that we all have different customs and rituals and that diversity is what makes life interesting.

I have a client whose three kids came home from school asking whether Santa was real, and, if so, why he never brought them presents.  She was so focussed on not letting them ruin Santa for their classmates that she, by her own admission made a mess of it. She told them Santa wasis real – he just doesn’t shop for them!! I wouldn’t advise that approach – talk about giving your kids a persecution complex!

The Holiday period can also be a very difficult time for divorced or separated families.  What would you suggest they can do to turn this into a positive experience for everyone?

This is a great time for parents to really think about what is in the best interests of the children.  Of course the absolute ideal is for the adults to actually behave like grown-ups, stop the bickering and get on with being parents.  If a joint family dinner is just that bridge too far, then make sure the arrangements which are worked out, mean the kids get to spend quality time with both families over the Holiday period.  Not everything has to happen on Christmas Day.  All the research shows that it is the conflict between parents which is the most damaging to kids. And just think, if the parents can sort out the logistics around Christmas amicably, there is hope they will be able to do it in other parts of their lives…

This time of year can be tricky for people who struggle with addictions and have memories of past holidays that involve drinking or drugging. How can they cope?

It is particularly challenging for people with addictions. Drinking, for example, is such a ritualised part of the season that it can be a real struggle to get through the office party, the neighbourhood party and your own family Christmas without picking up a drink.

And it is often exacerbated by people who are trying to be hospitable but are insensitive to a person’s addiction. We push our family and workmates to have “just one drink” but if you struggle with addiction just one drink can lead to complete relapse. And it’s the same with food – we all know someone, sometimes ourselves, who push others to overeat. We’ve prepared a big feast and we don’t want anyone to leave until the last crumb of Christmas pudding is finished, even if it means making yourself sick in the process. And for those of us who have a hard time saying no and putting in boundaries, we need to practice saying no in a way that’s assertive but not aggressive “that punch looks amazing, but I’m fine thanks” is hard to argue with. Or “I’d love to take a slice of that amazing cake home but right now I can’t fit another thing in”.

So for anyone who struggles with addiction it’s about firstly, being aware and prepared before we enter the Lion’s Den. If you know you’re going to a party with lots of temptations, ask yourself if your sobriety is worth risking? Or use other self -soothing skills to get yourself through a night when everyone around you is getting obliterated. Sometimes it’s good to give yourself a job to do on the night – make yourself the official photographer so you have something to do to distract you from temptation.

Also, importantly, it’s all about creating new HEALTHY rituals. There are many support groups and 12 step programs who run special Christmas meetings – AA, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. If you’re newly sober and have never woken up before noon on Christmas day, set yourself a goal to attend a morning meeting. There’s a great sense of connection if you can share your struggles with others who are also working to overcome addiction.





August 15, 2013

Notes from Bernie Bolger & Valerie Norton talking about ‘Hard Conversations’ on Tony Delroy’s Nightlife ABC 702 Monday 12 August

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 8:40 am

Click here to listen to the pod cast.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone you know is continually doing something that really bugs you?  Perhaps your girlfriend NEVER offers to pay for dinner.  Or your immediate boss always takes the credit for your hard work when he is talking to senior management.  Or the worst one of all – one of your colleagues at work doesn’t use deodorant and reeks of BO.  You know you should address the issue but every time you get a chance, you chicken out. And then you get annoyed with yourself and become bad tempered.  But instead of taking that as a cue to actually do something about the real problem, you take your bad humour out on some poor innocent victim who just happens to be walking by at the wrong time – like the family dog or the sweet little junior temp who was just saying hello.

Tonight we have Bernie Bolger and Valerie Norton from Collaborative Mediation Practice with us to talk about how to initiate the hard conversations up front in order to avoid a lot of angst and pain down the track

Q. So why is it that some conversations are harder to have than others?

Perhaps a more interesting way of looking at this would be why is it that some conversations are hard for one person and seemingly easy for the next? I think for a conversation to be difficult, it must have the following three elements.

  • Opposing opinions
  • Strong personal emotions
  • High stakes – professionally and / or personally

Obviously these three criteria will mean different things to different people.  So despite the importance of a particular conversation, we often back away from them because we fear we will make the situation worse.  This can be exacerbated if we already suffer from some form of insecurity where we are afraid we won’t be ‘popular’ or ‘loved’ if we speak out.  We become Masters of Avoidance but clearly the issues don’t go away – they are just manifest in other areas of our lives and eventually ‘explode’ out of us – usually in a destructive, angry manner.

Q. So what do you think of the idea that the closer the relationship the harder it is to have these conversations?

Again that is related to the previous point.  On the surface it could appear that the more intimate the relationship the more likely it is that there will be strong personal emotions and the harder it is to keep the conversation on track.  However power imbalance also plays a vital role in having the ability to have the conversation.  And the problem with power imbalance is that it can often be covert such as in a long term relationship between spouses (Despite numerous denials there always is a boss).  Obviously the more overt examples are in professional relationships between employers and employees, parents and kids, teachers and pupils.

Q. So if you were to name a few of the most common ‘hardest conversations’, what would they be?

Hard conversations are literally everywhere e.g.

  • Talking about money in a relationship
  • Ending a relationship
  • Asking your partner if they are having an affair
  • Talking to a co-worker who smells
  • Asking a friend to repay a loan
  • Asking a roommate to move out
  • Asking the in-laws to stop interfering

Q.  And how do we normally deal with them?

Very often in one of three ways

  • Avoid them altogether and hope they’ll go away
  • Address them but  handle them badly
  • Face them and address them well.

Unfortunately No. 3 doesn’t get a huge look in too often
In fact there is a psychologist from Harvard called Daniel Gilbert. In his book ’Stumbling on Happiness’ he asks why will partners fight loud and often about the dirty dishes left in the sink and never address infidelity? This is a great question which can be answered using the framework mentioned previously.  There is definitely more at stake by bringing up the affair than yelling about the dishes.  One would also think there would be stronger emotions and opposing opinions at play.  Much less confronting to deal with the dishes.  As we have seen in our years of psychotherapy and mediation practice – ‘the issue is never the issue’

Q. But surely there are many situations when you just are never going to agree? When you are well and truly gridlocked?

That is so true.  And one of the most liberating things to realise is that it is actually ok not to agree with your friends and family on everything.  How you manifest this non-agreement and deal with it in everyday life is the key.  John and Julie Gottman, who are probably recognised as the modern day gurus of relationship therapy say it is important to build up a reservoir of goodwill within the relationship.  They have even put a number on it.  For every negative thing that is said, five positive comments are needed to balance it.  This means when a hard conversation is necessary, both parties will be more ready to listen because historically the interaction between them has not been overwhelmingly negative.  And when you realise that nearly 69% of all conflicts are perpetual, i.e. they tend to reoccur, then it is even more important to have the skills to be able to discuss the topic rationally, respectfully and perhaps even gently.
Similar research has been done in the workplace. Sean Achor, a psychologist in Harvard has come up with a similar idea around positive feedback.  The ratio in the workplace in 3:1 positive to negative comments in order for teams to be able to work productively together.

Q. So are you saying that the aim of the conversation may not necessarily be to end up agreeing with each other but rather to understand each other’s point of view and be able to respect that?

Exactly.  When people are gridlocked over an issue, they basically feel betrayed, disrespected, hurt, and frustrated. And these feelings can cascade down a path of anger, loneliness, distance and disengagement. So rather than let this occur, a central part of navigating conflict is to uncover and understand the meaning of each person’s position in the conflict.  If we understand that even seemingly trivial gridlocked issues have symbolic value we can modify our tone and language to reflect this greater understanding.  Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling have no place in a hard conversation

Q.  So if you were to list the attributes of a hard conversation handled well, what would they be? 

And that is the multi-million dollar question.  I think the best way to do that is with an example e.g.   Tony, can you think of a current situation that is testing your resilience.

Ask yourself the following questions

(i) ‘What can I control in the situation?’

(ii) ‘What can I do to influence this situation?’

(iii) ‘What do I have to accept here?’

And then have a conversation using the following guidelines

  1. Listen. The Number One most important element of having a conversation is not about talking – even though that is what we all like to do.  It is actually having the ability to shut up, listen and be present.  It certainly helps not to have any of the normal distractions like electronic devices going off.  So always make sure you give the other person and the topic the space and time they deserve.
  2. Mutual Respectful Understanding. Another word for this is empathy or being able to walk in the other person’s shoes.  This is normally incredibly hard for us to do because in the 21st century it tends to be all about us.   You don’t have to agree but it certainly helps when you understand.
  3. Path to Collaboration. This means coming to the table with the right motives and not with the intention of proving the other person wrong or changing them. It means asking the 4 mindful questions of yourself and then answering them honestly

    • What do I want for me?
    • What do I want for others?
    • What do I want for the relationship?

    How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

    It involves using ‘I’ rather than ‘You’ statements, staying focussed on your needs and explaining clearly your objectives.  It means not getting distracted by buttons being pushed and needing to score small points.  DO NOT GET DISTRACTED FROM THE CONVERSATION BY EMOTIONS

  4. Win/Win. The outcome doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ solution.  The best collaborative solutions often involve ‘and’.  This is about generating options not just it’s my road or the high road mindset. Think about the orange scenario
  5. Help. If you find you just can’t get a constructive conversation going and the subject is very important to you – don’t be afraid to seek outside help.  Sometimes when bad habits have set in over a long period of time, a neutral third party facilitator or mediator is the only way set change in motion.    Do yourself a favour and save yourself some serious angst in the long term by getting help early.


January 22, 2013

Bernie Bolger on Tony Delroy Nightline – Dealing with Divorce

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 8:03 pm

Bernie talks about dealing with divorce.  Why does Christmas and New Year put such a strain on relationships and marriage.

Click to listen here

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