Tag Archives: Houden

How is as Important as What in Decision Making

Deb Houden
Deb Houden

Three siblings sat in a room discussing the details of a new shareholders agreement they wanted to create. Through a recent lawsuit with two other siblings, their current shareholder agreement, which had been put together by their father, had been helpful in defining settlement terms, but they knew it wasn’t comprehensive. The three siblings had gotten over the shock and hurt of the lawsuit, the dust had settled, and they were ready to proceed with a new shareholder agreement, but old habits had started to reemerge. They were stuck in a positional standoff. Eventually, after a year of building trust, they got to the point of having an honest and open discussion with each other regarding what they each wanted out of the shareholders agreement. They were (rightly) very proud of how far they had come.

They were also contemplating succession and their children were now employed in the business. One of the senior generation siblings suggested that since the three of them had come so far, it might be important for the next generation to sit in on the facilitated discussions regarding the shareholders agreement. They wanted the children to see that they could have tough discussions without being positional, judgmental, and/or defensive.

The meeting didn’t get very far through the parts of the agreement. There were a lot of side questions, a lot of meandering, but always came back on topic. Eventually, the three siblings went off on their own to discuss a few of the points on the shareholder’s agreement. After the siblings left, the next gen were asked what they thought of the meeting. A couple of them were confused about the lack of progress on the different points. Why was there so much discussion and meandering? Another was grateful to start hearing some of the terms that were used. He didn’t understand all of the different aspects of the agreement, so he was intrigued. And finally, the last one said he was happy to understand why they were making decisions about certain things instead of being handed a document and told “that’s how it is.”

The three siblings came back in the room and one of the next gen asked if they got anything done. One sibling answered that they got a lot done – they uncovered more questions. Two of the next gen were confused. They again said it seemed like the older generation siblings weren’t accomplishing anything. But the eldest sibling was excited. He told the next gen they accomplished so much more than just the points of the agreement. They gained trust and understanding and were enjoying the new found teamwork around the important document. They had come so far in their communication and were now enjoying solving tough problems together.

It was such an important illustration of how much the process matters when making decisions among family members. The next generation began to understand how to work together as future shareholders. It is incredibly important to teach the next generation many things, but most importantly, how to be a good partner. Next time you’re having an important discussion among the shareholders, keep these following points in mind:

  • Understand the process of making decisions is as important, and sometimes more, than the end product.
  • Exemplify what good communication and decision making can be for the next generation – they’re watching you.
  • Don’t hide difficult situations and conversations from the next generation.
  • Understand that the next generation wants to know WHY you made the decision you did.
  • Introduce terms that may be foreign, confusing, or misunderstood.
  • Don’t be afraid to veer off-topic for the sake of understanding. Just remember to come back to topic again.

Good decision making is so much more than good decisions.


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.


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.