Improving Communication in Family Businesses

JoAnne Norton
Jo Anne Norton

There’s never been a time in history when we’ve been able to send messages faster. In an age when what you are thinking can be written down, sent via email, and read by another person in a nanosecond, you would think that communication in family businesses would be improving. At a time when we are dishing about our dislikes, likes, political views, greatest aspirations and favorite inspiration on Facebook, or Twitter you would think that family members who work together every day would be in touch, online, and in sync, but you would be wrong.

Frequently family members who work together are so busy tending to business and dealing with the day-to-day operations, they don’t take the time to share what they are thinking, and more importantly, they don’t make the opportunity to listen. In the absence of good frequent communication people’s minds automatically fill in the blanks. A mother working with a busy daughter, who constantly talks shop, could assume there is a problem where none exists. A son, who works with a strong silent father, could assume that everything is splendid when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. In both situations neither the mother-daughter team nor the father-son team is dealing in reality, and that is dangerous for any family but particularly a family who owns a business together.

How do you improve communication? Communication is from the Latin word communicare meaning “to share,” so spending time together away from the office sharing with each other what is most important is the easy and obvious answer. Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to get away from a thriving business to talk about anything but business, especially when the business is brand new or when we’re going through tough economic times like we are now. When communication decreases, anxiety increases, and relationships begin to suffer, which causes family businesses to slowly die on the vine. Stephen Covey once said: “The deepest need of the human soul is to be understood.” To be understood we must speak, and we must be heard. It’s time to make a date with a family member to go to lunch, to take a walk, or to take a trip with the express intention of sharing what’s going on and understanding each other. It’s good for the business and great for the family.


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