From: Rachel in Kansas City
Our family members in our family business don’t communicate very well and we can’t seem to change. Is there anything we can do?
Great question Rachel. Communication comes up as one of the top sources of breakdowns and frustrations in family businesses. We know that old habits die hard, but we also know through the latest research about our brains, that we can change habits and build new “neural pathways”. In other words, we can actually train our brain to build this new muscle. Surprisingly, the research indicates that our brain has plasticity well into its later years so even the older folks in the family can learn new behaviors! “Sorry dad I know you’d prefer us to leave you alone!”
So we know physically it can be done, the more difficult question is, “how can we get the family focused on and motivated to make changes?” That’s what we work on so often in coaching. Helping families really stop and think about what’s at risk if they don’t learn to communicate more effectively. What I help the family realize is that lack of communication could be fatal to the family business.
What the family needs to do is identify the problem, agree that it’s important to work on, and then begin practicing. It’s something we use in our coaching programs called deliberate practice. Click here to see a short video about how and why deliberate practice works.
The most common way we get families to begin practicing better communication is in regular family meetings or manager meetings. Most successful businesses I work with are very good at having consistent and productive meetings. So get the family to start having meetings in which you can practice being better communicators. (Consider downloading our free practice on communication meetings.)
Make sure to give everyone permission to keep learning and getting better. Many times when we get the family together for the first meeting it is a bit rocky, the second meeting gets a little better, and by the third meeting they start to smooth out. Of course some families have a hard time smoothing out and that’s where the family business coach / family business consultant can add objective feedback and real-time learning. Some families find it helpful to have a referee who can stop the action and get people to behave.
The common things a family should focus on with communication are typically:
- Becoming better listeners
- Not dominating the conversation (balance talk and listen time)
- Talk in ways that don’t offend each other
- Leave all the history and baggage at the door before you get started
I know that seems like a pretty tall order, but I’ve seen many families make significant progress with a little bit of thoughtfulness and deliberate practice. Good luck Rachel!