Healthy family business communication rarely happens all by itself. Without awareness and effort by all parties to keep it moving smoothly you may find communication sliding off course, leading to misunderstandings and conflict.

Here are four takeaways from the Family Business 360 episode “Avoiding the Ditch: Keeping Your Family Business Communication On Track,” featuring Mark Wickman of Family Business Counsel. Listen to the complete episode online for more insights on family business communication.

Increasing awareness is a first step

Clear communication requires an increases level of awareness. By working to increase our self-awareness along with awareness of what’s happening in our family and our business, we can start to better understand what potential motivating factors affect the people in our relationships. “If that kind of thinking becomes contagious and awareness increases we’d be much better off in our families and our businesses,” says Wickman.

Understand the difference between intent and impact

What one person says often ends up being very different from what another person hears. Acknowledging and understanding the difference between what you intend to communicate and how others might interpret it is powerful. By focusing on this difference we can ask questions like “what do you think I meant, and how did that make you feel?” Mark adds “if we slow our communication to really clarify and understand one another, we would avoid some of these ditches.”

People assign values differently from one another

People value things differently. Some people may place greater value on money, some on the legacy of the business, or others may value the ability to be creative on the job. By understanding how other people assign values we can communicate more clearly and avoid misunderstandings of motivation. “If I speak your language there’s going to be less chance for unnecessary conflict. When we clarify what matters to you and what matters to me, where there is conflict, we may actually be able to find common ground,” says Wickman.

An outside facilitator can help

When family communication seems stalled, an outside facilitator or trusted advisor may help resolve issues. Because this outside party doesn’t have a vested interest in the family dynamics, they can act as an objective voice to share comments and concerns among family members. Mark says “the space created by that third party opens up room so that I can hear something [from another family member] that I couldn’t prior, and vice versa.” In other words, it may be easier to hear certain things from a third party than it is to hear from a sibling, parent or child.

Listen to the complete episode online for more comments and insights on keeping your family business communication on track.

Thank you to Mark Wickman of Family Business Counsel for appearing on the podcast.

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