Most family business issues can be traced back to a communication issue.
A few examples might be:
- Lack of clear expectations
- Unhealthy relationships left unresolved
- Lack of shared vision and values
One of the things I value and try to bring to my work is to be practical. Rather than high-level theory, I want to give you practical ways to improve your communication skills.
Many families don’t improve their skills because they aren’t sure how to proceed. They are concerned that when they start talking they might make matters worse.
I am going to give you a few simple practices that will help your family improve its communication skills and results.
It may sound fluffy or “pie-in-the-sky,” yet research has shown that when people can learn to express gratitude they have lower heart rates, overall better health and relationships. You need to help your family practice expressing gratitude about things in the family and in the business. It’s not that hard.
Make everyone ask a couple of easy questions:
- What are 1-2 things you are grateful for in this family?
- What are 1-2 things you are grateful for in your life?
Too often the family focuses on everything that’s not working. They think expressing gratitude will mean they are glossing over the things that don’t work. Actually, learning to express gratitude will set a better backdrop for you learning how to express disappointment. It will also help to learn to talk about the things that aren’t working.
Expressing Vision and Values
Learning to talk about the things that are important to you as a family, and to every individual in the family is vital to your success. You should give your family a chance to talk about what’s important to them. I use a simple set of questions to unearth some of this information.
It can be as simple as asking everyone in the room:
- What’s important to you?
- What matters most?
At first you may notice that your family may have a difficult time articulating what’s important to them. That’s OK. Keep asking. How can you have a mutually beneficial relationship if you can’t learn to articulate what you want from each other and what’s important to you?
Expressing Disappointment or Frustration
Yes, most families are uncomfortable with conflict, I get it. But you know the old saying, “Conflict left unresolved will blow up later, blow up like a time bomb.”
You should encourage your family to learn how to express their frustrations and disappointment. When someone expresses their frustration, it’s a great opportunity to better understand what’s important to them and explore how to resolve the issue.
Ask a question like this:
- What’s something that is frustrating you in this family or business right now?
Don’t be afraid of hearing frustrations. See them as an opening to better understand and identify things to work on.
Sure a lot of people tell me that they don’t need positive encouragement. I’m not concerned whether they need it or not. Expressing encouragement helps people focus on what’s going well and builds confidence and trust. Focus on the “quality” they demonstrated not the task.
An example might be:
“I want to encourage you to keep pushing yourself like you did. That’s how we get stronger as a team!”
Asking Questions, Being Curious
This is perhaps one of the most important communication skills, learning to ask questions with a genuine curiosity. Don’t ask questions that “lead” people to the answer you want to hear.
Really asking with an open mind seeking understanding. Learn to ask good open-ended questions.
Examples might sound like this:
- Can you tell me more about how you came to that conclusion?
- Can you help me understand your position on that?
I challenge you to take one or two of these communication skills and practice it with your family. Good communication is the lifeblood of a healthy family.
I’d also encourage you to check out my Family Business Decathlon. This is a board game and training system that will get your family to build communication and other important muscles in a very engaging and non-threatening framework.
Pete Walsh is a demanding, courageous and playful Master Coach in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the founder of Peak Workout Business Coaching and the Family Business Performance Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.