If you’re a member of a family, chances are you’ve participated in a family meeting. Whether you’re deciding about pizza toppings, which movie to watch, or where to go on vacation, if there’s more than one decision maker, somehow a consensus arrives. My dad used to call us to a “Board of Directors Meeting,” which made me feel important, even when the subject matter was simply to choose between his famous grilled ribs or his famous grilled chicken.

In my work as a Mediator, I often discuss the value of holding a family meeting, typically concerning subjects with greater impact than Sunday night’s dinner menu. Whether dealing with aging parents, or telling the kids that you’re getting a divorce, having these difficult conversations within the context of a family meeting is generally a very good idea.

If you think you might be ready to call your own family to the conference table, here are some pointers: 

First, schedule it a few days out. Let the members know that attendance is mandatory and give them a heads-up about the topic, so they don’t feel blindsided. If you’re dealing with younger kids, you might want to be less specific, so they don’t start worrying.  (“Your mom and I have some family matters to talk to you about” should be sufficient.)

Second, set a start time and an end time and try to make sure it doesn’t last more than an hour. Ask everyone to put away their phones and give full attention to the family.

Third, present the subject matter of the meeting without stating your opinion. This is super-important.  Tell your family members that they will have an opportunity to express their opinions without interruption for three to five minutes (be sure to set a timer). After everyone has been heard (and I do mean everyone, even the youngest kid), you can open the conversation to questions and answers, and then brainstorm solutions together if appropriate.

Fourth, maintain respect and decorum. If you’re the one who called the meeting, it’s probably going to be your responsibility to keep on topic and defuse arguments. Adult siblings who disagree about their aging parents are notorious for creating chaos. This is not the time to talk about who gets the jewelry and the cars, or who’s been helpful and who’s been absent.  This is where and when your leadership skills come into place.

Finally, before everyone leaves, schedule the next meeting, and ask each participant to tell you one agenda item for next time. Be sure to write it down, even if you don’t think it’s important or relevant. Highly emotional situations demand that everyone feel heard and valued, no matter their age or their position is within the family.

While it’s not always wise to treat your family in a businesslike manner, it’s important for each person in the family to feel like a member of the Board.  This is easily accomplished when they understand that their voices are being heard.