Avoid Scrapes and Bruises with Situational Awareness

Anne Hargrave
Anne Hargrave

My father flew F-106 jets in the Air Force. I recall hearing numerous stories about his many near misses. There was the time the control tower didn’t see that a plane had landed the wrong way and was heading towards him as he was landing in the right direction.  He also nearly had a mid-air collision over Canada with a fighter from another squadron who was being controlled by a different radar site.  And, he just missed colliding with a civilian Piper Club that was flying in a restricted area after he descended through the clouds going over 300 mph.

These stories, and many more well beyond his Air Force years, focused on the importance of being aware of one’s surroundings.  The value of this advice transfers beyond dramatic air maneuvers into our daily lives  — whether it’s dashing across a busy street, commuting to work or participating in a family business meeting.

In any given family business meeting, family members will figuratively walk in with a collection of hats. In one meeting, you might be the spouse, parent, child or cousin.  In another you’ll have that hat on in addition to being an employee, a shareholder or maybe everyone’s ultimate boss.

Taking time to reflect on who will be in the meeting, the role you and others are playing, the goal for the meeting and the impression you want to make lays a foundation for success.

In a meeting, look for information and behavioral clues so that you can be thoughtful about how or whether to ask a question, when to lean in and when to step back. Asking a difficult question or making a challenging comment in a group environment might damage a relationship, or how you are perceived.  Saving it for a 1:1 dialogue will likely foster greater understanding and collaboration.

To avoid scrapes and bruises, foster positive family engagement and enhance situational awareness, families might answer questions like:

  •  How might we respectfully respond if someone asks a question we don’t want to answer in a group?
  • What signal can we give others if our stress level is getting too high and we’d like to take a break on a topic?
  • How can we let other family members, management or advisors know whether we are speaking from a family member, employee or shareholder perspective?
  • What agreements might we put into place to help us not embarrass other family members in a family business meeting?
  • What can we do to remind ourselves to be thoughtful about who will be in the room and how we want to engage with each other?

If you have found a clever way to enhance family member situational awareness, let us know!