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All in the family

Code of conduct

/ 05:31 AM February 22, 2019

A reader writes:  Our family spent a lot of money to do a constitution with a consultant two years ago, but today we are still not on good terms with one another.  Our constitution contains our family values, which we all agreed on before, but some family members do not follow them.  We placed penalties for not following the constitution, but they cannot be enforced, because my grandfather, who founded the business, does not want to sanction anyone.  I am one of three grandchildren who are working for our business, but we do not like the “plastikan” of our parents, aunts and uncles.  They are civil on the outside, but interfere in each other’s lives and criticize everyone.  My brother and my cousin feel that if things do not improve, we will leave the business while we are still young enough to start anew elsewhere.  We are all in our mid- to late-20s.  Is our constitution a failure? What can we do now?

My reply

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If family relationships are not stable, then a constitution is of no use.

As I stated previously (“Help! Our Constitution is Not Enough, Feb. 6, 2015), think about our Philippine Constitution.  It contains lofty provisions, including an antidynasty clause, which are ideal but, unfortunately, ignored in reality.

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In our Ateneo Family Business Development Center, we try not to craft any constitution with clients with serious issues.  Often though, families insist that they are OK with each other, but after the constitution is done, they find it difficult to put its provisions to practice.

As for consultants, first check their credentials, their previous clients, and if they have not signed a nondisclosure agreement.   Often, word of mouth, coming from people you know and trust, would be better than advertisements.

Consultancies are highly lucrative, and many self-styled experts are not flexible enough to consider the unique needs of specific families.

You ask if your constitution is a failure.  Since I don’t know your family, and I have not studied your constitution, I cannot say.  What is clear is that your family members are not following the constitution.

Why? Are the provisions unrealistic?   Were family members not paying attention when the constitution was being done two years ago?  Do the members of the second generation—as you say, your parents, aunts and uncles—have unresolved conflicts?

The best way to mend relationships would be to see a clinical psychologist or a family therapist.  Family systems are complex, and trained licensed professionals can help.

Having said that, I anticipate that your family members will refuse to see a professional.

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Perhaps you, your brother, and your cousin can shake the elders out of their complacency.  You three can present a united front, and respectfully but firmly tell your elders to treat each other with care, or else all of you will leave the toxic company.

Hopefully, the threat of losing the next generation will spur the elders to get their act together.

Another option would be to create a family code of conduct.  You do not need any expert—I suggest you and the other members of the third generation take the lead.

Gather as many family members as possible, and make a heartfelt plea to the elders to do better.  Tell them how much you are getting hurt with their squabbling, and why a family code of conduct is needed.

This code should specify communication guidelines, do’s and don’ts.

It can also include “caveats against arguing with or criticizing another family member in public, passing judgment on the private lives or parenting practices of other family members, spending company money on personal needs without the full knowledge or approval of others in the business,” says lawyer Jim Lopez in his book, “Family Business Law Declassified.”

Moreover, the code can contain “illustrative stories and reasons why a particular rule is valuable,” says Lopez, including guidelines to curtail the harmful practices you mentioned.

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