Tag Archives: listening

We Have Two Ears and One Mouth for a Reason

Deb Houden
Deb Houden

A couple were driving home and the wife mentioned that she talked to her brother that day.  She said she was sad because her brother had confided that he was having a tough time at work and home. She was worried about him. The husband quickly started to solve the problem by suggesting how her brother should change and take charge of his life.  After a while (with no response from the wife) he stopped talking.  The husband knew the wife was now upset with him so he sheepishly asked what was wrong.

The same man was also unsure why he was having difficulty with his relationship with his son at work.  His son was bright and the father was proud to have him consider taking a leadership position one day.  But the son could be cranky and shut down around the father.  The father knew the son needed more training and experience. When he first started working there, he would ask his father questions but now rarely talked with him unless the father requested a meeting. In those meetings the discussions always seemed to be tense and one-sided.

Both of those situations could be helped by one thing:  the ability to listen better.  Listening is such an important skill to hone, but too few actually actively practice. It seems unnatural in this day and age of emails, texts, and quick phone calls.  Our minds are busy solving problems, thinking about the demands that life puts on us, and especially in a family business, receiving information from others through the lens that we have built up over the years.  We get stuck in positions of defending, explaining, knowing what they’re going to say (but do we?), and solving their problems that we forget to listen.

Listening with patience and an open mind can create the type of thinking that is enormously creative, build trust among those who do not have it and enhance that of those who do, build self-confidence among those with none, and instill wonderment for those who do it. It is so hard to actively listen with patience and an open mind.  There are so many demands on time that we get in the habit of responding quickly.   If we take too much time to think we believe people will get impatient.  We jump in and finish thoughts and take the conversation the way we view it. We solve their problems.  After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do for the people we love?

For just today, try this:

  • Pick one person and give yourself time to listen them.
  • Actively try to hear every word that person says to you.
  • Do not interrupt or answer until they are finished.
  • Look at them during the entire time they are talking.
  • Force your mind to not jump to what you think they’re going to say.
  • Do not begin to formulate your response until they have stopped talking.
  • Do not fix their problem, but ask a question instead.

The steps are basic, but hard to do with every conversation.  Just for one day, with one person, practice the most crucial component to communication.  We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Managing the Whirlwind Mindfully

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy        Sage-Hayward

Leading in a family business is layered with complexity due to the integration of the family in the business environment. This complexity is highly rewarding but also stressful and challenging at times especially for family business leaders. When trying to balance the demands and needs of the family and the business it can feel like managing in a whirlwind. New research on the brain helps us better understand how we can deal more effectively with the daily whirlwind of the family business.

Typically we perceive a stressful event using one of two automatic brain responses:

  • Adrenalin based reactions – saving ourselves from danger by fighting with, running away from, protecting or camouflaging ourselves… ….fight, flight and freeze OR
  • Problem-solving processes – where we attempt to fix or resolve a perceived problem with higher level thinking. This is where we respond wisely and appropriately, rather than adding to the stress by engaging in automatic uncontrolled reactions. Neuroscientists call this a mindful reaction.

Mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally….” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Mindfulness is a mental discipline which involves focusing our attention. It is not a method of distracting ourselves or tuning out. In fact, it is about tuning in. Research by Jochen Reb previously at The University of Cambridge shows us that leaders perform better when they are mindful. They make better decisions, are in a more positive mood, and effect change more successfully in their businesses. The anxious, stressed or depressed state of mind is a distracted state (i.e., mindless rather than mindful) and has a negative impact upon a leader’s performance.

Many research findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation increases our mindful abilities and has many positive impacts on our physical, emotional and mental well-being including “neuroprotective effects” which result in reduced mental decline associated with normal aging (Pagnoni and Cekic).

Incorporating mindfulness practices into the daily routine of family business leaders promises to bring about more thoughtful, positive and constructive leadership to both the family and the business. Mindful practices are simple and yet have a powerful influence on our family and business relationships. Here are two simple ways to practice mindfulness:

  • Attend to something easy like your breathing for one full minute. When your mind drifts away, bring it back to your breathing. The repeated returning to a focal point trains your attention.
  • Take a few minutes and focus on each part of your body starting at your toes and moving slowly up to your head. This is called body scanning.

The benefits gained by family business leaders from engaging in these virtually effortless, yet influential daily practices are quite remarkable:

–   boosting teamwork, cooperation and well-being amongst family and non-family employees

–   reducing unconstructive thoughts and emotions which waste valuable mental energy

–   renewing energy and creating a clear focus to address decisions and tasks at hand in the business

–   arriving home with a positive mood after the day’s whirlwind of activities

Mindfulness deserves our attention!

Decisions are more likely to be sustainable and to preserve the quality of family relationships when they are perceived as “fairly derived”.

David Lansky
David Lansky

Asset sharing families often struggle with questions of fairness. It’s a familiar dilemma: Must we treat all family members the same (equally) in order to be fair? An affirmative response requires ignoring differences between people and this may be perceived as unfair and paternalistic. A more realistic approach is to recognize the differences and to be transparent in discussions, explaining WHY family members are being treated differently.

Listening does not require agreement. Sometimes people just want to be heard.

David Lansky
David Lansky

Family members occasionally resist really listening to each other out of fear that listening signifies agreement. Not true. In fact, good communication may occasionally be reinforced by the conscious intention to not express agreement or disagreement, but simply to listen. That’s harder for some people than for others.

“Silence Is Golden”, “Pandora’s Box”, “Peace At Any Price” undermine good communication.

David Lansky
David Lansky

All of these aphorisms have a similar goal: To suppress open communication about potentially disturbing topics. But suppressed communication does not mean an issue is not present. On the contrary, it is often the things we don’t talk about that have the most impact in our relationships. The solution is to create a process for safely putting issues on the table, accompanied by mutually respectful listening and problem solving. A third party facilitator can really help in this regard by helping to identify the right issues, promoting good listening and driving toward effective problem solving.

The Power of Persuasion

Otis Baskin

Leadership could be defined as the ability to exercise influence over others.  The success of a leadership transition in a family business is therefore dependent on much more than someone assuming the position of CEO or obtaining voting control in a shareholders meeting.  Leadership is really about how to avoid a power confrontation and still get things done – the power of persuasion.  One old definition of persuasion tells us that influence over others is purchased at the price of allowing one’s self to be influenced by others.  While this may seem counter-intuitive, the logic is obvious:  We are all more likely to follow someone whom we believe has listened to us and has truly understood our point of view (been influenced by us).  If others believe you have heard them and have incorporated their interests into your leadership they are more likely to follow.