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FAQ: What Resources Can You Recommend for Power Struggles and Negative Family Members?

"If people ran their businesses (or careers) the way they ran their families, they'd be out of business."

Have you ever felt that you spend more time strategizing how to run/improve your job, business, or finances than you do about how to manage your family?

Have you failed to consider that your family is an organization and you are the CEO?

"If many people ran their businesses (or careers) the way they ran their families, they'd be out of business," says Patrick Lencioni in his book The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family.

I receive a lot of questions from the tribe members (and I love it)!

The questions below are from a member of the Extraordinary Family Life Group Coaching which he asked after watching videos from the Habits of a Successful Family course included in his membership.

The goal of the Group Coaching is to learn strategies that help us run our families as CEOs of the most important organization of our lives so we can reduce chaos and increase peace.

He asks:

"I thought the ideas about the quality of [our] input, and about input atrophy were quite interesting. I've observed that when one person in the family is being negative, lots of other interactions don't work as smoothly.  I'd never really thought of that as an 'input' into the other people, but that makes sense, and clearly shows why it is so easy to spiral downward if even one person is focused on being negative.

I'm wondering if you have any resources you can recommend for one person in my family who seems to believe that one of their primary purposes in their interactions with others is to identify and point out things that should be fixed in either that person, or in some situation they were a part of.

My sense is this is just causing negativity, even if it is intended to help things improve.  I'm not sure how to help that individual realize the effect of their comments, without seeming to be doing the exact same thing: pointing out something that should be changed in another person."


I totally understand your situation. We have been there! I'm not sure of the age of the person you're referring to, but for our family, we see an increase in this type of behavior around ages 11-14 (especially in girls).

It is actually a natural part of development. Children start to get older and their cognitive abilities increase and they begin to see what's 'right and wrong' in the world. But for them, everything is black or white. In an effort to articulate what they see or 'know', they start to do some 'policing'.

Younger siblings should be acting older than they are and doing what they are now capable (as tweens) of doing.

Older siblings need to follow the rules exactly as mom and dad have prescribed them without exception.

Explaining that there are rules but there are also exceptions and allowances (based on age, capability, etc.) isn't always helpful because again, at this stage of development, everything is 'black or white'.

It can be tough! All that policing does take a toll on other members of the family.

Here are some strategies that can help:

  • Have candid, non-accusatory family discussions about it. The goal is to not let the family member who's causing the problem know that this discussion is intended for them. :) Ask a hypothetical question, or find a story of another family (fictional or not) and ask your family what they would or should do in that situation. The lesson will be taught -- and better received -- when it's not clearly directed at the one causing the 'problems'. And then you're also not 'doing the exact same thing' by pointing out what they're doing wrong.

  • Don't allow yourself to get irritated or annoyed with this behavior. Understand that it's a normal phase and it will likely pass or improve with age and maturity.

  • Be the diplomat -- the conflict resolution specialist. Explain to both parties what's likely going on in the mind of the other to diffuse the situation -- "Your sister is concerned about XYZ, that's why she said that." "Your brother is not as old as you, so he doesn't understand the same way you do." There will still be plenty of justifications and explanations as to why brother should still do XYZ, but talking through it -- although it may not be immediately obvious -- will help them process it. Just don't get upset by their endless judgments and accusations. Know that it comes from a place of love and concern for their family members, and recognition of 'right and wrong' in the world -- even if it doesn't seem like it. They want them to 'do the right thing' because it's right and because when we 'do the right things' we're all happier.

  • Help this family member to express their concerns in a kinder way, with explanations as to why they have this point of view. Let them know that no matter what their views, kindness is critical. Whatever they have to say can be said in an appropriate way. And sharing why you have that view helps the other person to understand where you're coming from. This is where they begin to learn diplomacy. (You can also teach what diplomacy is and why it's such a great life skill.)

  • Talk to the other family members confidentially. Let them know that this person is going through a phase and that's why they are doing some things that seem 'annoying'. Explain it's because they're becoming cognitively aware of right and wrong, and right now everything seems black or white. Sometimes family members need to pull together to support each other through phases. :) If everyone else can learn to be less sensitive to statements and accusations made it can diffuse the negativity.


"Another belief that is held, which I believe is inaccurate (or at least is not helpful nor healthy), is that when there is a contentious

situation, both people need to change their behavior, so there can be more unity in the situation.

The keyword there is 'need.'  My observation is that acting on the belief in that idea causes a power struggle to occur, where one person is trying to compel the other to agree to change, or admit that they need to change (just because that is part of the the formula and the first person will perhaps feel resentful about trying to change when the other person does not want to admit to needing to change)."

Welcome to one of the most challenging pieces of the Formula -- [O] 'Ownership' for your actions and a realization that you need to change.

Ownership includes the idea that wherever you are (physically, mentally, financially, emotionally) or whatever you have in your life (quality of relationships, money or lack of it, etc.) YOU are the cause of it.

This is difficult to swallow at first for many people. How can I be responsible for things that happen to me? For what other people do to me?

Yet no matter what others do or what happens, Ownership means that you take responsibility for how you respond and what you will do about it.

Embracing this piece is the first step to true freedom in every way you can imagine.

Once you accept ownership and recognize a need for change (in yourself, more importantly than recognizing it in others) then submitting to that recognition so you can actually change is the next step.

This is not easy, especially if those around us may not be ready or willing to change, and our 'ego' feels the need to resist change until others change first.

This absolutely creates a power struggle -- if they stop doing ______ then I will stop doing _____.

But what happens if they never stop? Then you are perpetually stuck in a cycle of destruction which is helpful to no one -- especially to the self you are trying to become.

YOU have to decide what YOU want (in your life, in your relationships, in your finances) and then take the actions that will produce those results regardless of what those around you do or don't do.

You're right. It is inaccurate to believe that both people need to change in order to improve a situation. It only takes ONE person to change to improve a situation. This is what my husband calls "Bringing the tide".

When the tide comes in it lifts all boats. When you raise your energy levels, your abilities, your thinking patterns, you lift everything and everyone around you.

But it has to be real and it has to be sincere -- not just a paltry, pretended effort that you hope will 'inspire' others around you to change.

It has to be a 'no matter what' commitment to change with the knowledge in your soul that you're doing it because it's who you're meant to become. You have to do it without resentment or expectation.

Besides, when we expect others to change (because we've changed, or even because it would be better for them if they did change) it's actually a form of manipulation.

Expectation without agreement is manipulation.

If someone has asked us to hold them accountable for changing, that's agreement.

But if we expect them to do something and they haven't agreed to it, that's manipulation.

And you can't build relationships on manipulation.

For further understanding of the idea of Ownership, I would recommend:


"Any tips or resources for those particular thought patterns, or for helping people recognize ways of thinking that are not being helpful for them, so they can find new ways of thinking that would be more helpful for them?  (I have not yet been able to get a copy of The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson, but I am wondering if he gives practical advice about helping others identify thought patterns that are either helpful or damaging.)"

The Slight Edge is a fantastic book and you would find some nuggets in there as relate to thinking patterns.

But for identifying ways of thinking that may or may not be helpful, I would recommend:


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  • The Extraordinary Life Planner

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  • Using Family Vision Boards to Strengthen Family Culture

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