Managing Communication

Kent Rhodes

Sibling and cousin teams in family businesses can provide deep perspective for both the family and the business as well as broader opportunity for family involvement in the enterprise. But it also presents unique challenges to managing communication and decision making that requires greater awareness of not only how each member of the team is “showing up” in meetings, but of the patterns or habits of how the team interacts with each other.

Even though it isn’t spelled out in very many textbooks or articles, developing the skill to simultaneously attend to the task at hand and pay attention to those habits – many of which have likely been solidly in place since team members were children together – is really important to sibling/cousin team success.

Here are some important questions individual teammates might practice asking about themselves and the team in the context of meetings:

  1. How are questions routinely dealt with? Depending on the interaction habits they have developed with each other over a life time, some team members may be routinely ignored or certain questions be considered to be irrelevant or “off limits” and therefore go unaddressed. Creating a mindset that – at least in the context of team meetings – questions are encouraged, listened to and drawn out with good questions from the team to deepen understanding will help over communication habits improve. Learning to follow up those questions with thoughtful, professional responses builds meeting competence and strengthens trust among the team.
  2. How much interrupting/talking over/ignoring takes place? I’m sometimes amazed at the sheer volume of “talking over” each other that occurs within family teams – behaviors that those same family members would never display in another social or professional context. Making agreements that support the idea that team behavior in meetings match other professional contexts is a good starting place.
  3. When did you notice yourself “making stuff up” about the process or what a speaker was saying? People routinely make sense of the world by “filling in the blanks” regarding what a speaker may not be saying or about the speaker themselves. This creates at least two challenges: One is that it is difficult to truly be an engaged and active listener if my mind is busy creating an subtext about what is being said. Another is that the content of the made up subtext is very possibly inaccurate,  misguided or both, leaving a trail of misunderstanding and misinformation that can have negative impacts on effective decision making. Learning to notice when the subtext is being created, then focusing on listening well – followed by asking clarifying questions to iron out any missing pieces – will help keep things on track.

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