“Good communication doesn’t eliminate conflict, but it does help you manage it effectively so that it doesn’t become poisonous, overly emotional and destructive.”
- Astrachan and McMillan (authors of the book - Conflict and Communication in the Family Business)
Good communication is one of the most important survival skills for a successful family business. This is especially important for families who work together around shared ownership of family assets. Business owning families that do not resolve conflict through communication risk dangers from litigation, to dissolution of the business, to the painful and dishonorable destruction of the family. Breakdown of communication is also one of the top reasons for loss of family wealth.
“70% of families are unsuccessful at multigenerational wealth transfer. Further, 60% of the time this failure is attributed to lack of communication and trust within the family”
- Roy Williams and Vic Preisser (authors of the book - Preparing Heirs: Five Steps to Successful Transition of Family Wealth and Values).
In one of the famous and heartbreaking cases, the Bingham family of Kentucky felt forced to sell its greatly admired media empire in 1986. The underlying cause was the family member’s inability to communicate with one another, which resulted in mutual distrust and disrespect among the third-generation siblings (deep-rooted since their childhood).
It is therefore imperative for every family member of the business owning family to strengthen their communication skills and take personal responsibility to contribute towards a sustained journey of “togetherness” and “cohesion” in the family.
How to enhance good communication and reduce miscommunications in business owning families?
- 1. Identify and correct miscommunications early: Spotting miscommunications early enables preventing resentments, bruised egos, anger etc. Some clues that indicate miscommunication include unexpected emotional reactions, blank stares, lack of response etc. You can proactively address this situation by inviting the other person to participate in a dialogue by asking for feedback or for an opinion. Illustration - “I’m not sure I was really clear,” or “Sometimes I don’t clearly put my thoughts into words. Should I try that again?” Asking the other person to help you out makes the quest for clear collaborative communication.
- 2. Non-verbal communication: Researchers estimate that up to 65% of what is communicated between the speaker and listener is non-verbal. Communication specialists tell us that if the listener feels there is a contradiction between what is being said and the speaker's body language, the non-verbal message wins. So, be conscious of what is being said and how it is being conveyed.
- 3. Active Listening:The key to becoming a better listener is to remove the barriers to listening. Examples of barriers include planning your response, judging the speaker, interrupting to give advice – to name a few. An active listener demonstrates the following - Leans forward, makes eye contact, eliminates distractions and conveys a positive attitude. Look at each interaction as an opportunity, and try to stay in the moment. Check your engagement by asking questions and restating key points back to the speaker.
- 4. Empathetic Listening: This is different from Active Listening. Active listening involves making a conscious effort not only to hear the words but also to understand the complete message. Empathetic listening or "listening from the heart" requires you to put yourself in the shoes of the speaker. A non-judgmental listening establishes trust and provides a space for vulnerability. Empathetic listening is especially relevant for family members working together in a multigenerational business which goes a long way in instilling empathy among the next generation.
- 5. Build and Maintain Trust: Can you build trust without good communication? Can you have a good communication without trust? The best ways to create trust are to be trustworthy yourself and to extend trust to others (giving the benefit of doubt). Act of living the intentions (values) consistently, help us to build trust and dependable relationships.
- 6. Allow others to be emotional without shutting them down: When others are emotionally charged / in tears / angry etc. it is best to withhold your desire to say something or stop them from speaking or trying to comfort them. Just give them space to be emotional without judging them.
- 7. Avoid Triangulation: Triangulation happens when communication reaches the intended person, through a mediator. It is not healthy because the intended perspective of the sender is likely to get distorted / differently interpreted due to the involvement of the mediator or third person. Such form of interactions can result in strained relationships and distrust when it becomes a repeated practice.
- 8. Treat Disagreements devoid of any emotional content: When disagreements are regarded as different perspectives it becomes a “healthy conflict”. It can empower the family to solve any complex problems or promotes reaching difficult/uncomfortable decisions with ease.
Making an effort to improve your own ability to communicate takes courage, patience and constant practice. However, it can do wonders to the health of relationships and to the overall success of the family business.
We’d love to hear your comments and experiences. Please do write to us in the comments section below.