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Dealing with family conflict as a funeral director

by | Oct 18, 2016 | Funeral Profession

Two women smiling and laughing together

If you’re a funeral director, there’s no doubt you’ve experienced conflict at some point among the families you’ve served.

While the death of a loved one can sometimes bring families together, that’s unfortunately not always the case. With how spread out many families are these days, it can sometimes be difficult for families to make decisions for their loved ones that everyone agrees with.

Couple the huge decisions that need to be made with the emotional toll a death takes on a family, as well as any underlying disagreements they’ve had in the past, and you have the perfect recipe for outbursts, arguments, and tears.

As a funeral director, what can you do to keep the peace and keep the planning process moving forward without overstepping your boundaries? Here are a few tips on dealing with family conflict:

Be direct

Though it can be uncomfortable trying to communicate with families in a conflict situation, it’s important that you don’t try to avoid it. Be honest and direct with the family, because any confusion or misrepresentation could result in more conflict.

It’s also important to speak directly to the person you need to speak to. Don’t speak to one family member just because they are less angry — speak to the person who needs the information you are offering.

Take a moment

When things start getting especially ugly, it can be helpful to step in and suggest that everyone takes a moment to think before regrouping. This can mean just being silent for a moment or even physically separating families until tensions lessen.

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, people say things they don’t mean and anger can cloud judgment. Taking a moment to relax can help de-escalate these situations.

Offer advice on compromise

As a funeral director, you likely know better than your family what is available in terms of services or products. If your family is disagreeing on something and you think you might have a compromise that would work, don’t be afraid to suggest it.

Just be sure to suggest with caution, as you don’t want to come across as trying to upsell or make decisions for them. Ask the family if they would like to hear your suggestion, and if they do, tell them what you suggest as well as what the pros AND cons are, for all parties involved, if they use your suggestion.

Find opportunities for cooperation

No matter what the conflict is about, there is bound to be at least a few points where cooperation is possible. Listen to the concerns that all parties have and find those points, so that you can use them to come to an agreement.

Don’t take it personally

Most funeral directors have been yelled at during some point in their careers. What’ important to realize is that, more often than not, it’s not something we did or said.

Anger is an emotion that often comes out to mask sadness. As humans, we don’t want to appear vulnerable; instead, we lash out and get defensive or angry to cover up our sadness. In situations like the loss of a loved one, sadness is common and, often, so is anger.

Now, that doesn’t mean the funeral director is never wrong — we all make mistakes. But when a family member you are serving lashes out at you and you’re not sure why, it usually has nothing to do with you, so don’t take it personally.

Sometimes, you can’t help them find a solution

There is always the possibility that, despite your best efforts, families won’t be able to find an amicable compromise. In that case, family members who share the primary right to control the funeral can seek a court order to be put in sole control of it.

If it comes to that, you might want to suggest it to avoid a stalemate situation. But it is best to suggest this option to each family member individually to avoid more conflict. Though this isn’t an ideal solution, and it would mean a delay in funeral services, it does take some of the burden off the funeral director in terms of finding a solution.


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