Dropping the “Second Person” Mode

Off the top, I realize that my title this week is a little less clear about my topic than it normally is, so thanks for getting past it and reading anyway.

We’re going back to some grammar school stuff, and then we’ll move pretty quickly into more advanced topics. It should be an interesting ride.

 

La Conjugaison des Verbes

My elementary schooling was in French, unlike my older sisters who attended English school. (They weren’t expected to take over Dad’s business, I was; but that’s another topic for another day).

During class, and for homework, we spent a LOT of time conjugating every verb we encountered, always following the same sequence: 

                                          Je, tu, il;     Nous, vous, ils.

We started with singular, first person, second person, third person; and we continue through them again in plural, first, second, third person.

So for “le verbe avoir” it was: J’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont.  

For « aimer » it was J’aime, tu aimes, il aime, nous aimons, vous aimez, ils aiment.

 

Comparing Homework Among Siblings

My sisters were sometimes curious about my homework, as their English school did not seem to obsess over conjugating verbs nearly as much as my French school did.

But of course you never know when this might come in handy, say 45 years later when writing a blog about business families.

Somehow I never imagined any of this in my future.

What this repetitive work did give me, was an appreciation for the whole concept of “First person”, i.e. me, “second person”, i.e. you, and “third person”, i.e. he/she, along with the corresponding plural versions of “we”, “you” and “they”.

 

Cultivating Better Interpersonal Relations

Much more recently, having done more than my share of training in coaching, facilitation, mediation, and family systems, some common themes have emerged within my mind.

One of those themes is the importance we should place on how we direct comments to others, in ways that are more conducive to harmonious relationships, compared to other, less skilled ways that may produce sub-optimal results.

You guessed it, thinking about all this in terms of “first person”, “second person”, and “third person” can be helpful.

 

Feeling “Accused” Prompts Reactivity

I’ll start with a basic principle that most of us can vouch for from personal experience.

When you feel like you are being accused of something, you will typically react in some way, and in many cases, that reaction will be less than friendly or positive.

We don’t necessarily do this in a thoughtful, conscious way, it just happens, as our emotions get triggered. I touched on some of this a couple of years ago in Your Response Is Your Responsibility.

And when do we typically feel like we’re being accused? 

I think that when someone starts with the word “You”, that’s often a huge part of it.

 

Dropping “You”, Using “I” and “He” or “She”

So how hard would it be to drop the habit of using “You”? 

My take is that it’s something you can learn to do, with time and practice, like other speech habits.

I know lots of people who’ve learned to substitute “and” in place of “but” in many instances, with positive results.

I’ve seen suggestions to talk about one’s own reaction to things as a way to lessen the blow of the “you” accusation, for example, “When I hear the word _____, I feel _____”, as opposed to “When you say ____, you _____”.

My favourite example of the plural version was use of “you people” and its negative effect on Ross Perot during his Presidential bid in 1992, when he continually said “You people should….” during a speech to a room full of African Americans.  It did not go over well.

 

What About He or She?

As for using the third person, this naturally fits with situations when more people are in the room, and is something a good facilitator or mediator would commonly do.

Having the people tell the story to the third party, while the person in question is present, can really allow that person to “hear” the story in a way that they can respond, instead of reacting.

In any case, just learning to drop the second person mode will be a huge improvement.

Learning to state things from an “I position” can also help, as can using a trained neutral third party.

good and bad in family business

Pleasant = Good, Unpleasant = Bad, Right?

This week we’re going to look at something that’s a little bit further afield from many of the more hands-on topics that I sometimes cover in this space.

Of course I will still make an attempt to connect the discussion to the field of family enterprise and intergenerational wealth transitions, because that’s still the main goal here.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve been meditating every day for almost two years now, so you shouldn’t be too surprised when I tell you that the inspiration for this blog comes from a meditation recording that I was listening to recently.

 

How Not to Judge Your Meditation Session

One of the apps that I use daily is 10% Happier, based on Dan Harris’ book of the same name.  One of his main meditation gurus, featured in both the book and on the app, is Joseph Goldstein.

In one of the recordings featuring Goldstein that I listened to recently, he noted that a mediation session can leave you feeling disappointed or confused at times, but that that’s alright and even to be expected. (I’m paraphrasing here)

His point was that you cannot judge your meditation by whether or not it is pleasant. Life has its ups and downs, which is to be expected, and so meditation should be no different.

The point was being stressed for beginners, in the hopes that they not give up the practice, simply because they do not walk away from every experience with perfect happiness and enlightenment.

 

Is It Any Different in a Family Business?

So now let’s think about this idea in terms of a family business, or, maybe even more specifically, from the point of view of various members of a business family.

Not everyone is going to be happy, all the time.  That’s to be expected, and there are likely cycles of ups and downs for the business and for the people who are part of the family, and part of the business.

I think it’s important for everyone to take stock of where they are from time to time and recognize that things can’t always be rosy.

 

Different Views from Different Generations?

Some people may think that one of the real variables here is the generation that you happen to belong to.  Let me explain.

When you’re young and working your way into the business, it may feel like you need to put up with things being a little bit tough for you, but oh, look out, when I get to be the one in charge, man, this is going to be awesome and everything will be great.

Meanwhile, the senior generation, who are stuck with their own problems and worries, may be looking at their younger relatives and thinking, “man, don’t they have it easy!”.

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The reason that I decided to write about this topic was the idea that sometimes people working in their family business have unrealistic expectations about how much fun they will have and how great every day is going to be.

If you’re in such a situation, great, you’re doing better than most, more power to you, and may it ever be so.

There are probably more people who are in situations that are closer to the other end of that continuum, though.

I guess my suggestion to them is to occasionally step back and re-evaluate their decision to work there.

 

Was It Even My Decision?

If you’re one of those people who find working in your family business as a series of unpleasant circumstances, day after day, you may also be someone who has trouble with that last sentence, the one where I qualified the idea of working there as “their decision”. Ha!

If you’re like many people who are working in your family’s business, and you can honestly say that it was not your decision, or your choice, then my idea about stepping back and re-evaluating things may be even more important.

 

Something to Talk About

You’ve got a lot to think about, and hopefully sooner or later, something to talk about.

Talk with your family, talk with a coach, talk with your business partners, whether they are family members or not.

It may not be fun, but if you just keep going in an environment that you hate, how does that end?

These conversations won’t necessarily be comfortable, but hopefully they’ll be productive.

 

See: Conversations: Does “Uncomfortable” = “Productive”?

Children holding a golden trophy

The Case for Friendly FamBiz Competition

This week’s blog is one of the occasional instances where I leave an open spot on my blog calendar because of an event that I’m attending, and I allow something from my participation to inspire me in real-time.

The event in question this time is the Global Family Enterprise Case Competition at the University of Vermont (UVM). I just returned from my trip there, where I was pleased and proud to serve as the lead judge on one of the four judging panels on day 1 of the competition.  

This was my fifth time as a judge, and every year I come away impressed with the caliber of the students; not only the competitors, but also the dozens of UVM volunteers who run the event, under the watchful eye of Pramodita (Dita) Sharma, who remains the heart and soul of the event, as she has since she created it.

 

Friendly Competition, Global Participants

If there was an “A-Ha Moment” that arose for me this time, it certainly was not the global nature of the competition, and, by extension, the family business world.  I’ve commented before in some of my posts relating to my membership in the Family Firm Institute (FFI) that the FamBiz community is truly global in nature.

What really struck me on this visit was the friendly nature of the competition between teams.

The dinner after day 1 of the competition involves each team (3 student participants plus 1 coach) going to the front of the room and taking the microphone and introducing themselves in a fun and creative way.  Think of it as a gigantic icebreaker exercise.

It is very friendly in nature, and it is also competitive.

In fact, the entire event truly brings together both friendliness AND competition.

 

Neither One Alone Would Suffice

What I realized was that neither one of these traits (competitiveness and friendliness) would be enough in and of themselves.  Imagine if it was all friendliness and nobody really cared who won. Or, the reverse, if it turned into a dog-eat-dog fight to the finish.

But then I also started to think about the parallels this competition has with a real family business.  Bear with me here for a minute.

If you’re part of a family business and it’s all friendliness, all the time, that might be nice, but how long will it last, if you aren’t competitive enough? And I mean competitive as a business, but also internally with colleagues.

Likewise, if it’s all about competition and people aren’t even friendly with each other, what’s the point? Isn’t life too short for that?

 

The Pentland Case

The case that was used on day 1 was centered on Pentland, a UK business that was preparing the transition from the second generation of the Rubin family to the third.

It was written after Pentland had received an award for the being the best family business in Europe a few years ago, so it clearly wasn’t one of those typical business school cases where there are all kinds of obvious problems.

The setting for the case was a Friday evening family dinner where various family members had recently returned from visiting different branches of the family company, and they were about to embark on some key discussions about where the family was going to go from here.

 

Finding the Right Friendly / Competitive Balance

The key to this and many family business situations is finding the right balance between the friendly family dinner and the business meeting aspects of the important discussions that also need to happen.

Some families have difficulty with this balance, where every family dinner becomes a business meeting, much to the dismay of those around the table who aren’t involved and don’t wish to be part of any such meetings.

 

Coaches and Judges Mingle…. After Work

Personally, I also needed to work on balancing my serious role as a judge with some friendly after dinner discussions with some of the dedicated coaches.

I’m pleased to say that everyone got along very well and professionally, and my own network of family business contacts continues to expand..

I hope to return again as a judge next year.

 

And the Winners Are:

The winning schools at FECC 2020 were:

Undergraduate Division: Wilfrid Laurier University – Canada

Graduate Division: Universidad Francisco Marroquin – Panama

Congratulations to all those involved, participants and organizers.

When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient

When Structural Solutions Aren’t Sufficient

Plenty of business families have problems when siblings are placed into positions where conflicts are almost inevitable.  So there’s a natural tendency to look for an easy “work-around”, where the hope is that a simple structural change will make all the problems disappear.

This is what we’ll be looking at this week, thanks to another real live case from an overseas colleague who contacted me recently.

Let me start with the original set-up.

Two Brothers Stepping on Each Other’s Toes

The story, as it was related to me by my colleague, was that her client family had an operating company in which two rising generation brothers both worked.

Here comes the difficult part; they don’t get along, they don’t even speak to each other.  Clearly this is sub-optimal, we can all agree.

The question posed to me was if I had any experience in finding or creating a structure where they would not have to speak to each other.

The “Economy-Size” Box of Band-Aids

My reply to my friend was that I did not have any experience in setting up such structures, which is true. I also added that creating such an operational structure, in which they would not have to interact, would simply be putting a Band-Aid on the problem.

When you get right down to it, this issue of boundaries is quite common in many family businesses.

But in the end, if you choose this as your only remedy, you will continually need to re-apply new Band-Aids on a regular basis.

Yes, Structures ARE Necessary

I want to be clear that I’m not saying that clear structures and boundaries are not important; they certainly are.

Please note the adjective “clear” there, as it’s one of the keys.

What’s another key?  I’m glad you asked.

Another important aspect of any boundary is that it be mutually-agreed upon, and hopefully even co-created, by those on either side of the boundary.

No, Structures are NOT Sufficient

So one of the main points here is that the structure itself will rarely be sufficient to solve the issue. These brothers may be able to co-exist for some time with a structure that is imposed upon them so as to minimize of even eliminate their interactions.

It seems logical enough, I agree; they don’t speak to each other, so let’s set it up so that isn’t necessary, and, voilà, problem averted.

But just as swerving your car back into your lane to avoid an accident as you’re falling asleep while driving may have “averted” one accident, if you don’t change the essence of what’s going on, it’s bound to arise again.

Parents as a Buffer or Mediator

The details about the parents were not shared with me in this particular fact set, but I assume that they’re still around and playing key roles.

This is great, and should be capitalized upon, but everyone should also recognize that it won’t last forever.  In fact, if things go the way they usually do, the offspring will outlive their parents.

So let me ask the obvious question: What are they going to do after their parents are no longer around?

Family Dynamics Problems Need to Be Addressed…

I think that anyone looking at the case of these two brothers would agree that what we’re really looking at is a family dynamics issue, not a simple corporate structure problem.

If the two employees were not related, maybe a structural solution would suffice, but maybe not.  We could certainly expect that maybe one of the employees would be let go or reassigned in such a case.

But here it seems to be truly a question of their relationship as members of the same family.

…. with Family Dynamics Solutions

So if we have a family dynamics problem, we should be looking at a family dynamics based solution.

I recognize that most families and even most of their advisors typically hate to admit this, because this brings them into uncomfortable territory.

My answer to them is that it is already uncomfortable, and admitting what is there is the first step to being able to work through it.

A real solution hinges on the ability of the siblings to get along together after their parents are gone, so it’s better to start working on that and testing it now, not later.

If it turns out to be impossible, better to know that now, and begin to take appropriate action.

See also: FamBiz Conflict In Pieces for the Sake of Peace

Dis-Covering your Enterprising Family

Business families, or “families in business”, as they’re often called, come in all shapes and sizes.  Advisors who work with them, like me, sometimes have trouble agreeing on the labels that we should be using to identify this segment of society.

Recently, a term that’s been garnering some momentum is “enterprising families”, which certainly has some cachet to it, especially when contrasted with alternatives we sometimes see, like UNHW families (Ultra High Net Worth).

The word “enterprising” connotes some action, which is so often appropriate, especially when there’s an “operating business” that’s (still) part of the asset mix that the family owns.

 

And…..”Action!”

While the action involved in the creation of the wealth is certainly important, whether that continues in the present or whether it’s only in the family’s past, my bias is to continue to focus on action going forward as well.

As I’ve written in this space in the past, notably in Is your Continuity Planning “PAL” in Danger, there are two main components in achieving a family legacy: assets, and, even more importantly, people.

Even if the assets are now passive, the people need to be active.

And therein lies the focus of this week’s post, which is about discovering, or more specifically, “dis-covering” the members of your enterprising family.

 

Getting to Know “The People”

Now the idea of “getting to know” people in your own family might seem like something that you wouldn’t necessarily need to spend a lot of time on, since you already know plenty about them.

And if that’s what you’re thinking, then you’re exactly the kind of person who needs to keep reading.

Because I’m not talking about the obvious details of your children’s lives that every family member already knows about, I’m talking about the questions relating to where and how they “fit” into the enterprising family.

Figuring all of that stuff out takes time and effort, but it’s the families who take the time and make the effort who’ll be the ones who manage to keep their wealth in the family for generations.

 

Inclusion and Belonging as a Bias

My bias is towards inclusion and belonging in every family, so that’s my starting point.  

I will always assume that all family members do want to at least look at the idea of being involved, somewhere, somehow, and at some time, in the preservation and transition of the family’s wealth from one generation to the next.

That’s not to say that every member of the rising generation will be interested in being part of this, it’s just that when I work with a family, I begin there.  

If certain family members are not interested in being involved, that’s OK too, but even those who “pass” are usually glad to have been asked.

 

It Takes a Village

For most families out there, things are much simpler than what I write about here.

For families that have a certain amount of complexity, and who have achieved a certain level of wealth, spending time and making the effort to do things in a thoughtful and inclusive way really makes sense.

Families who’ve been successful in creating, growing, and sustaining wealth, who want to make sure that that wealth stays in their family, should be doing whatever it takes to develop their human capital to take on the necessary roles, as their rising generation prepares to take on key roles.

There are plenty of important roles in most such families, whether they be in an operating business, a family office, a family foundation, or in an entrepreneurial venture.

 

It’s Not Just About the “Next CEO”

Each family member has their own strengths and desires, and taking the time to learn more about each of them is a necessary step, or phase, that’s worth taking the time for.

Having regular family meetings is a big part of how families can do this important work, building the foundation on which the sibling team learns to work together.

When the family members are all involved in co-creating their futures together, the odds of them all “buying in” and making it work go up tremendously.

Not everyone wants to be the next CEO, and not everyone gets to be that either.

But if you think more broadly about stewardship, governance, leadership and management, and consider the business, the family, and the ownership circles, there’s room for everyone somewhere.

Kids walking together in the woods

Are you Explaining or Exploring?

As a coach and facilitator who works with people from enterprising families, one of my roles is to engage with people in ways that are useful to them, as a “thinking partner”.

While I’m a big fan of understanding each person’s context, requiring a certain amount of “explanation”, my real preference is to get to a place of “exploration”, finding the best way forward for each person, and by extension, their family.

With that set-up taken care of, I’d like to explain where I’m coming from on this, before moving into a mode where these thoughts can be explored further.

 

Coach Training and Certification – Check!

Having recently completed my coaching certification program, (with the Co-Active Training Institute, making me a “CPCC”  – or Certified Professional Co-Active Coach –   many of the ideas that came from that program are still fresh in mind, and continue to serve me as a coach, as well as someone who writes a weekly blog.  

This week’s is another example.

One of the aspects of being a coach is that we’re much more interested in the process of coaching our clients, as opposed to getting buried in the content and detail of their situations.  

Our role is to help them see and understand where they are, figure out where they’re trying to go, and then overcome whatever obstacles are in their way.

We’re there to act as a guide, and our training makes us versatile guides; no matter what the situation or obstacles, we’re about the process.  And that process is more focused on the future and its possibilities than on the past.

It’s more about exploration than about explanation.

 

The Rambling Back Story

Some coaching clients love to go on and on, telling their coach about every minute detail of the story that has them in a quandary. 

Many beginner coaches are typically all too happy to think they’re doing a great job of being good listeners, since the client keeps talking. It can feel like a win-win; but alas, it’s typically a missed opportunity.

This is where the wise words of my “CPL”, or Certification Pod Leader, Alex, come in. 

In explaining the importance of interrupting rambling clients, he said, “Coaching is not about EXPLANATION, it’s about EXPLORATION“.

Bingo, there is it, the simple phrase that I’ll never forget.

 

Family Members Who Dwell on the Past

I’m sure that anyone who’s part of a business family will recognize the case of the family member who spends most of their time talking about all of the problems they have to work through, as if to justify their job and pay, because it’s so much work.

When that family member is able to drive all of the discussion, it can really limit the progress of the business, and also the family.

When everything they talk about is an explanation of the current situation, including plenty of excuses and lots of blaming, the focus is on the past, and current obstacles.

 

Focus on the Future – Let’s Explore

Imagine now a family where much of the time is spent on exploration, and talking about possibilities for the future.

Yes, it’s important to understand and appreciate the current context, knowing where we are now, which includes a back story of how we got here.

At some point, everyone already knows that story, though, and rehashing it over and over again, to make clear the obstacles, the errors of the past, the other people who are to “blame” for the shortcomings, and all of the excuses for why things aren’t better, well, all this gets tiring and anything but productive.

What if we get family members together to talk about the future, and how they can all explore, together, a way forward where they all make progress?

 

Coaching, Facilitation, or Mediation?

Whether it’s for one motivated person in a family, or for a family group, quite often the presence of a trained outside person can stimulate more exploration, without the need for excess explanation.

Maybe its coaching for one person, or even several.  It could be facilitation of group meetings that haven’t worked so well without an outside neutral third party.

When things are truly tense, someone who knows how to mediate might be the answer.

What they all have in common is a focus on a better future. Exploring ways forward can work wonders for your family.

 

A time glass in the ground

Is 10 Years a Long Time? (It Depends…)

Looking Forward, Looking Back

This week we’re starting out with a thought-provoking trick question.  It was inspired by something I saw on Twitter a few months ago and filed away.  

Its author is unknown to me, but it came from the @Wealth_Theory Twitter account.

Here’s the main content from the Tweet in question:

 

                   10 years looking forward feels like eternity.

                  10 years looking back feels like yesterday.

 

I couldn’t agree more.  And of course there’s absolutely nothing magic about the number 10, it works equally well with 5, 15, or 20 (or insert your favourite number here).

10 years celebration text

Ages and Stages

For people in a family enterprise, including members of different generations of a family, a few things will remain forever “fixed”.

For instance, your sibling position, vis-à-vis your brothers and sisters, generally won’t change. Likewise, the difference between any two people’s ages doesn’t vary; I will always be 5 years younger than my oldest sister.

And whatever age you are at when your children are born, that gap will remain fixed until one of you stops having birthdays.

But even if some things are truly “fixed”, life goes on, and everyone ages according to the same calendar.

 

What’s your Halftime Speech?

As I write this, I’ve got a football game on TV (on mute) in the background, and it happens to be halftime now. I suddenly realized that when you play the “X years back, X years forward” game, it’s always halftime too.

So what happens in the locker room at halftime?

Well, if you’re winning, you talk to the team about what you’ve been doing well, and plan to do more of that.

If, however, you’re losing, or in a close game, now is the time to make adjustments and make plans for the second half.

 

A Different Game as it Progresses

Of course the second half is never the same as the first.  In real life, that’s even more true than in sports.

I’m 55, so it doesn’t make sense for me to expect years 55 to 65 to be the same as the ones from 45 to 55.

Likewise, my son, who just turned 20, will go through all kinds of new things from now until he’s 30 that will be markedly different than his years 10 to 20.

 

“Picture This…”

A exercise I like to do with families from time to time is to simply draw a basic family diagram with each person’s age written on it.  Simple enough, but now comes the fun part. First, label the page with the current year, say 2019.

Now re-draw another version and label it 2029.

Then have one of the family members put in everyone’s new age.  This is not a math exercise, it’s an exercise in picturing the family in a future state. Try it.

 

All Years Are the Same, Actually 

While the time it takes to go from January 1 to December 31 each year is very much the same, the speed at which it seems to be going varies depending you where you are on your path through life.

I remember thinking that 2000 seemed so far away when I was a kid, and when I look at it today, it’s also far away!

Okay, enough of the navel gazing, this blog is usually about business families, so it’s time I try to articulate my point for members of such families.

 

It’s All About Self-Awareness 

If I had to boil it down to one subject, it would be self-awareness.  But just to be clear, I am not talking about the “internal” or “selfish” aspect of self-awareness.

No, I’m talking about your awareness of your place in your family system.

Who you were, in your family, 10 years ago, and who you are, in your family now, are likely quite different.

Likewise, or furthermore, who you will be 10 years from now, will also likely be quite different.

 

What About the Others?

The same goes for the other members of your family.

Some people are still on the upslope of their arc of life, while others are very likely past their own peak.

The sooner everyone recognizes this reality, the sooner you can actually start to co-create a future where everyone can be part of a gradual transition from the way things are today, to a desired future state.

Because looking 10 years back, it does feel like yesterday!

guy with digestion issues

Digestion Time in the Family Business

A blog post about the timing issues involved in the “family side” of family business has been kicking around my brain for some time now.  I just needed a good entry point.

Then suddenly I got an email from one of the leaders of an online study group I belong to, around some changes we’d be making to our meeting format.

The leaders decided to add some time at the end of each call, for a “closing discussion”, because, as she explained:

                           “Like with food, the ideas that come to mind 

                           during the discussions need digestion.

    
Bang! There it was, “digestion time”, I finally had my hook!

 

Food for Thought

If the ideas that come up in discussions among colleagues in a study group require time to digest, then some of the things that come up in family discussions will certainly require even more time to be absorbed into the family system.

I’ve often written about how things need to “evolve” when working with families, and that idea isn’t very far away here. See: The Evolution of Family Governance

One subject I constantly harp on when discussing the ideas around working with families, whether with advisor colleagues or with family members themselves, is the speed, or rather lack thereof, of the work.

 

Pace and Cadence

Contrary to much of the work on the business side, including the “structural” pieces of the wealth transition projects that families often create, where speed is assumed to be good, the family work doesn’t typically run on the premise of “faster is better”.

When your lawyer and accountant are working on these elements for you, less hours spent will usually result in a lower invoice you need to pay, so that’s often a good thing (assuming that quality of the work is not being sacrificed).

But those who work with family members, where the resulting harmony is typically top of mind, need to work with a different time paradigm.

 

Think “Tour Guide” or “Waiter” Instead

For those who work on the family relationships, as opposed to the lawyers and accountants, our work is more analogous to that of tour guides, or waiters in fine restaurants.

Here’s what I’m getting at: The speed with which the job is completed doesn’t correlate at all with the quality of the result, especially in the eyes of the clients.

How often have you completed a tour and said, “Wow, that tour guide was great, she wrapped things up really quickly”?

Likewise, in most fine sit-down restaurants, the speed of service is valued much less highly than the quality of the service, including attention to detail, timely comings and goings at your table, and great answers to your questions.

 

Process Over Content

I mentioned the subject of “harping on” certain things earlier, and the idea of the process being more important than the content is another idea that’s I seem to be bringing up more and more.

Take that for what it very likely means, i.e. this is true, and important.

The kinds of issues that the family needs to deal with don’t necessarily run well on a strict timeline.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s no need to pay attention to the passage of time either.

Too often, when things get a bit “sticky” or “crunchy”, the process can grind to a halt, as many people will prefer to stop altogether, because now some tough subjects and hard decisions are staring them in the face.

 

The “Project Manager” Viewpoint

So we’ve talked about the fact that going fast isn’t necessarily appropriate, and now we mentioned that things can come to a quick halt.

How do you make sure you’re making progress even when there are obstacles?

Another “job title” now comes into play, although I’m not sure how many of my colleagues on the “soft side” do this.

Who Owns the Process?

One of the ways that I try to add value is that I will “own the process” for them, meaning that keeping things on some schedule is part of my job.

This includes staying in touch on a regular schedule, sending emails reminding everyone of next steps, and making sure that meetings are held and re-scheduled if necessary. Follow-up is so key.

It’s all part of keeping the family’s digestive system healthy and moving!  (Sorry for the unfortunate visual! OK, maybe I’m not sorry)

kid closing ears

“I Can’t Hear” or “I Can’t Listen”?

Most of my blog posts are inspired by real life occurrences that get me thinking more deeply about what just happened. 

They then become a platform that I use to try to tie in some lessons that are (hopefully) useful for families.

When I’m also able to bring in some humour and unexpected language twists, writing them becomes even more enjoyable for me.

Of course I always hope that readers get something from them too!

 

A Communications Problem Example

This week’s “inspirational” incident comes from a Zoom call I was recently part of with someone from a European country where English is not the main language.

We were trying to get the call started, but the person on the other end was having some difficulty, because of a technical issue.  I could hear her just fine, but she was unable to hear me.

For added context, this was a person I’d never spoken to before, although we had exchanged some emails around the scheduling of this call.  

Without delving too deep into the details, let’s just say that this person also wielded a certain amount of power over me at the time.

 

“I Cannot Listen to You”

So now imagine if you will, the feeling in my gut when the first words I heard out of her mouth are, “I cannot listen to you”.

She then repeated that a couple of times, seemingly louder each time, as typically happens when people with different first languages are trying to communicate.

It took a few seconds, which seemed longer at the time, for me to realize that what she was trying to tell me was that she simply couldn’t HEAR me.

She was indeed willing to listen to me, in fact that was the main purpose of the call in this case, but she had difficulty with the first essential element of that, i.e. hearing me.

The confusion was only felt on my end and it didn’t last long, thankfully. Just long enough for me laugh (internally) and to note the story for an upcoming blog.

 

Business Family Versions

Anyone who has ever been involved with family businesses and the business families who run them, will instantly be able to relate some anecdotes about the differences between hearing and listening.

The most common ones might involve someone we’ll call “Dad”, whose hearing is just fine, but who practises what some might call “selective listening”.

The frustrating part of this can be simple at times, but gets more complex as it becomes habitual.  Let me expand on that.

 

Acute versus Chronic

An occasional situation where someone says something but the intended receiver doesn’t properly hear them would fall into a category I’ll call “acute”, or “incidental”.

This could be looked at as the simplest version of my favourite quote about communication, courtesy of George Bernard Shaw:

               “The biggest problem with communication 

                   is the illusion that it has taken place”

Once the situation is recognized it can be corrected, hopefully before too much damage has been done, and maybe the people involved will even learn something about how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

The Same Old, Same Old

When these things happen all the time, the situation would be better described as “chronic” or “habitual”

Now you’re getting really frustrated because the person seemingly just won’t listen.

This can be tough in a family business, especially when the one who won’t listen is the parent, and their offspring (i.e. former “children”, now adults) still think that they can get the parent to listen.

If it hasn’t worked for the past 10 years, why would it work now?

 

Recognizing Your Limits

It’s usually better to recognize the limits of your persuasion with such people and find ways to get things done without expecting them to suddenly listen.

In fact, there are situations that could be worse, and we’re now going to close the loop from the start of this post.

This might happen more between siblings than between different generations, but the “I cannot listen to you”, in it’s true sense, is probably as bad a communication issue as you can find in any family business.

At that point, it may be best to figure out how each can go their separate ways. See:  FamBiz Conflict:  In PIECES for the Sake of PEACE?

Even big fans of family business need to recognize that nothing lasts forever.

When You’re Too Close to Help

It’s normal for people to want to help others with whom they’re close, like friends and family members.  

But sometimes, in some areas, it’s actually possible to be “too close”, where that closeness actually makes things more difficult.

That’s what we’ll be looking at here today, and as usual, we’ll be delving into the world of family business.

Whenever family members need to manage things (a business, property, wealth, etc.) together, things can get tricky.

 

Sometimes They Ask Us for Help

A few weeks back, I was on a Zoom call with a colleague I had met at a certain conference over the past couple of years.  “Phil” was telling me about a friend of his who was having some issues involving some family members with whom he co-owned a business.

Because Phil was a friend, and had also met the other family members on occasion, he felt like he would be able to help them resolve the issues they were having.  In fact, the friend even asked Phil for advice and counsel. So far, so good.

Except that’s about as far as it can go, realistically. 

Even though Phil might like to help his friend, Phil is actually “too close” to do much more than lend a sympathetic ear to support his friend.  For him to get more involved, say as a mediator of sorts, crosses into uncomfortable territory pretty quickly.

 

Sometimes We Just Want to Help

About a week later, I had a similar discussion with “Molly”, another colleague that I got to know at those same conferences.

Molly was asking me about being a resource to a friend of hers, who was in fact initially a professional acquaintance, but who had become a friend over time.  Let’s call him her “lawyer-friend”.

This lawyer-friend had been telling Molly about a situation that he was involved in with some of his family members, and because Molly is quite familiar with the types of issues families often face, she wanted to offer him some help.

Except that it quickly got to the point where Molly reached the edge of where she was comfortable.  Besides being a good friend and empathetic listener, there wasn’t a lot more that she could do.

While the lawyer-friend might indeed need an outsider to come and help him work things out with his family members, the best person for that role really couldn’t be Molly.

 

And Sometimes We’re Just Always Right There!

I’ve got a childhood friend I’ll call Geoff, who reads my blogs weekly.  He’s not part of a business family, but he’s a smart guy and, like me, he “married well”, in that his wife’s family has a certain level of wealth, along with some family complexities that make things interesting.

Geoff is “right there”, with a front row seat to watch a lot of interesting things that take place in his wife’s family.  But he’s really not well placed to effectuate any meaningful change in the family situation, other than by being a “good husband”.

Like I said, Geoff is a smart man, he knows better than to tread into that territory in his wife’s family.  I commend him for his restraint; I know how hard it can be at times.

 

Being a “Resource” Instead of the “Helper”

There are a number of things these people can do for their friends and family members, and the first one is to try to stop thinking about ways to “help” them.

Helping has a “one-up, one-down” connotation to it, like “poor you, down there, allow me, up here, to help you up”.  It can feel very condescending and isn’t actually that helpful, in most cases.

Instead, if they can have a mindset of being a resource to that person, that’s more of an even playing field.

 

Listening, without Judgement, without “Solving”

A good resource is always also a great listener, and as such, they know how to listen without judgement. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but you can learn to do it, with training and practice.

Supporting someone without jumping in to solve their problems for them is also worthwhile.  Again, it takes practice to get good at that.

A great resource will also be able to connect them with neutral, qualified professionals, like coaches, facilitators and mediators when necessary.

Knowing your limits is key, and sometimes being too close gets in the way.