All posts by Deb Houden, Ph.D.

Who Are You Setting Up for Your Disappointment Today?

Deb Houden
Deb Houden

So much distress in family centers on the notion of expectations. We have expectations of ourselves, our significant others, our family and our friends. We even have expectations of how events should go, such as birthdays, holidays, family gatherings.  How many times do we set ourselves up with outlooks that we have and get disappointed when things don’t turn out like we had seen in our mind’s eye? How much discord in families is centered on unmet hopes?

In each area of our intra and interpersonal life, the ability to manage expectations will serve well.  That is not to say that expectations are always dangerous; shared expectations around behavior, responsibilities, and outcomes can be quite beneficial, as long as they are agreed upon with a solid plan of achieving them.  But so often our expectations are silent wishes, a testament to our own ego of how things should be.   

Parents have expectations of how children should behave, perform, be seen as, etc.  We think a child should be more outgoing, a better student, more of a leader, a better athlete and get disenchanted when they fall short.  Siblings are disappointed in each other when they start the phrase with “He should” or “I wish she”.  Relationships break down because they are built on what we wish for instead of what is. We hold plans in our heads that bring us satisfaction but include others who are incapable of (or don’t want to) meeting those expectations.  We set others up to disappoint us, and then we get angry at them. 

 What is it about expectations that get us in trouble?  Can you look back honestly at the disappointments in your life?  How many of them are wrapped up not meeting the expectations you had for yourself or you had of others?  How many family business issues are entangled in expectations in ourselves or others?   How many times do we have to fight our dreams of what we thought would be, against what truly is?

Let go of and mourn the dream of what should be, and accept the reality of what is.  Relationships will be based on acceptance and understanding, so important in families.  What will happen is a better version of the dream than what was kept in the head.


How Much Do We Communicate By Not Saying Anything?

DHouden new photo Web 2
Deb Houden

Communication is generally at the top of a list of topics that family enterprises want/need to work on: an important component in everything that family businesses do well (and not so well).  It can be such a challenge because communication can be a slippery topic.  What is not communicated is just as important as what is.  When a child brings up a topic, and is told that “we don’t talk about that”, the child learns to keep quiet. The child’s brain does not necessarily comply. The human brain fills in the blanks with the information available; when the information is limited, the thought process is limited.

Another example is when some event happens in the business and a family member wants to talk about it.  If they approach another family member, and are rebuffed, they soon learn not to ask difficult questions.  Difficult questions and difficult discussions are as important to learning how to communicate effectively as laughter and congeniality. Families who communicate effectively do both.

Families are filled with topics that are taboo. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in family businesses when not all members work in the business.

Here are 5 things to think about that will help you help your family communicate better:

  • What am I not saying that is important for others to know?
  • What am I assuming? Do I have the same information as everyone else?
  • What topic am I afraid to talk about in my family?  Why?
  • It may take a neutral 3rd party to help your family gently begin to communicate better.
  • Communication takes practice, circling back to make sure all information is out there, checking assumptions, and then practicing again.

Communication only becomes effective within families if it is practiced regularly.  If you are part of a family who struggles with communication, start gently and build up your skills.  Remember, by not talking about a topic, you are communicating plenty of information, just not what you might want others to know.