The Risk of Doing Nothing

By Davon Cook on September 28, 2017

By Davon Cook

While Lance discussed business risks in the previous article, let’s consider risks to the family unit
inherent in a business you run together. Prevalent among several is the risk of doing nothing to address discord or tough issues. Whatever the tough issue—difficult work interactions, disagreement over compensation, resentment over how assets are/were inherited or gifted, different risk tolerances that cause conflict, or incompatible philosophies of money and lifestyle—there’s a tendency to sweep it under the rug to be dealt with another day. Having those tough conversations can be stressful, and many times you fear making it worse by bringing up the elephant in the room.

Thus, doing nothing to address the discord becomes a de-facto strategy, without an intentional decision weighing the pros and cons being made. You’ve heard the quote by William James, “No decision is, in itself, a decision.” I extend that to say, “Doing nothing is, in fact, making a choice to accept the status quo.” Thus, by refusing to discuss and address the hot topics, you are making a choice to be continually stressed by your debt level when your partner is unconcerned…making a choice to be annoyed at family holidays every year because you haven’t settled resentment with a sibling over inheritance…making a choice to endure conflict every year when it’s time to make distributions, etc. When put in that context, is it wise to make a choice to continue what’s not working well? I cannot guarantee that discussing the elephant in the room will make it better, but it is unlikely to make it worse.

Often overlooked is the multi-generational impact of sweeping an issue under the rug. I sometimes hear reflections like, “This has been going on for thirty years. I should have said something sooner. And it’s only gotten worse.” The frustration has built to a breaking point, and the choice to do nothing is not only regretted but has become the problem of the next generation. Don’t you want to set your heirs up for success rather than saddle them with unresolved conflict?

Every situation is different, and it takes wisdom to discern if, when and how to address conflict. Yet we often witness the risk of doing nothing transforming from a risk to a real cost, in relationships beyond repair and biases from the past limiting the effectiveness of today’s leaders. Which choice will you make?