To the outsider, communication within the family business might appear straight forward, after all, family business members talk all of the time – over breakfast, at dinner, in the boardroom, on the weekends and on holiday. However, despite so many opportunities to express opinion the incidence of misunderstanding and miscommunication is high. This is because communication is inherently subjective. Our ability to listen is hindered by the noise of our own experiences, preconceptions and judgements.
In a family business, sibling rivalries of school sports days may be exercised in the boardroom and fathers may encounter teenage rebellion each time their son or daughter makes a decision about the company which he disagrees with.
Family ties engender the passion for and commitment to the business that family members uniquely bring. However, they also bring the baggage from their parent/child/sibling past and therein lie the stumbling blocks for open communication.
From our experience, we advise the following eight steps to better communication:-
- Listen well. Make sure you understand the meaning behind the words
- Seek understanding not victory
- Don’t let disagreements fester
- Disagree without being disagreeable. People are not difficult, situations are.
- Create a ‘safe’ environment for discussion. Don’t judge. Accept your siblings right to their own feelings and conclusions
- Complain directly and not through a third party
- Put the past behind you. Don’t assume that your adult siblings are the same people they were as children
- Avoid certainty. Conclusive statements – “That will never work!” – shut off discussion.