When You’re Too Close to Help

It’s normal for people to want to help others with whom they’re close, like friends and family members.  

But sometimes, in some areas, it’s actually possible to be “too close”, where that closeness actually makes things more difficult.

That’s what we’ll be looking at here today, and as usual, we’ll be delving into the world of family business.

Whenever family members need to manage things (a business, property, wealth, etc.) together, things can get tricky.

 

Sometimes They Ask Us for Help

A few weeks back, I was on a Zoom call with a colleague I had met at a certain conference over the past couple of years.  “Phil” was telling me about a friend of his who was having some issues involving some family members with whom he co-owned a business.

Because Phil was a friend, and had also met the other family members on occasion, he felt like he would be able to help them resolve the issues they were having.  In fact, the friend even asked Phil for advice and counsel. So far, so good.

Except that’s about as far as it can go, realistically. 

Even though Phil might like to help his friend, Phil is actually “too close” to do much more than lend a sympathetic ear to support his friend.  For him to get more involved, say as a mediator of sorts, crosses into uncomfortable territory pretty quickly.

 

Sometimes We Just Want to Help

About a week later, I had a similar discussion with “Molly”, another colleague that I got to know at those same conferences.

Molly was asking me about being a resource to a friend of hers, who was in fact initially a professional acquaintance, but who had become a friend over time.  Let’s call him her “lawyer-friend”.

This lawyer-friend had been telling Molly about a situation that he was involved in with some of his family members, and because Molly is quite familiar with the types of issues families often face, she wanted to offer him some help.

Except that it quickly got to the point where Molly reached the edge of where she was comfortable.  Besides being a good friend and empathetic listener, there wasn’t a lot more that she could do.

While the lawyer-friend might indeed need an outsider to come and help him work things out with his family members, the best person for that role really couldn’t be Molly.

 

And Sometimes We’re Just Always Right There!

I’ve got a childhood friend I’ll call Geoff, who reads my blogs weekly.  He’s not part of a business family, but he’s a smart guy and, like me, he “married well”, in that his wife’s family has a certain level of wealth, along with some family complexities that make things interesting.

Geoff is “right there”, with a front row seat to watch a lot of interesting things that take place in his wife’s family.  But he’s really not well placed to effectuate any meaningful change in the family situation, other than by being a “good husband”.

Like I said, Geoff is a smart man, he knows better than to tread into that territory in his wife’s family.  I commend him for his restraint; I know how hard it can be at times.

 

Being a “Resource” Instead of the “Helper”

There are a number of things these people can do for their friends and family members, and the first one is to try to stop thinking about ways to “help” them.

Helping has a “one-up, one-down” connotation to it, like “poor you, down there, allow me, up here, to help you up”.  It can feel very condescending and isn’t actually that helpful, in most cases.

Instead, if they can have a mindset of being a resource to that person, that’s more of an even playing field.

 

Listening, without Judgement, without “Solving”

A good resource is always also a great listener, and as such, they know how to listen without judgement. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but you can learn to do it, with training and practice.

Supporting someone without jumping in to solve their problems for them is also worthwhile.  Again, it takes practice to get good at that.

A great resource will also be able to connect them with neutral, qualified professionals, like coaches, facilitators and mediators when necessary.

Knowing your limits is key, and sometimes being too close gets in the way.