The stories that are most often told about family businesses are about the fights and conflicts. When people are faced with the question of would they want to work with their family members, you often hear the response, “ I could never work with my family, we’d kill each other.” These stereotypes about family businesses obscure the vital role that family businesses play in their communities and the marketplace. Research tells us that family businesses are the cornerstones of most economies.
So what is it about the most successful family businesses that allows them to get along, work towards a common set of goals and objectives, and have such a tremendous impact in our world today? While there are many different components to succeeding as a family business, perhaps the most critical one is the ability to communicate. It is communication that allows our interpersonal relationships, our governance structures (family meetings, family councils and boards), and our businesses to succeed.
It is communication that enables families to act quickly, to take the long term approach for their businesses. Families must develop the capacity to communicate with candor and honesty without letting their emotions cloud the messages of the family.
What can families do to build their communication skills?
• Build the self-esteem of their children growing up – If family members haven’t developed a sense of self esteem – it will be hard for them to trust, they will often take conflicts too personally and they will hold on to those hurts for a longer time.
• Create a common sense of purpose – By creating a statement articulating why we choose to work together, one that articulates our common values & the behaviors that exhibit those values, we commit ourselves to something greater than ourselves. Doing this helps us to de-personalize conflicts and always keep our end game in mind
• Create a common set of expectations – creating policies and rules to govern our behavior may seem bureaucratic, but it helps us to be explicit of what is expected of each other. When we rely on implicit understandings, we leave ourselves subject to misunderstandings and emotions driving our conversations. Remember when there is a lack of communication, people will assume the worst.
Finally, It is important to remember that we cannot solve our communication problems overnight. We must commit as individuals and as a family to building the skills of ourselves and our families and this takes time.