You Look Concerned. Or Are You Just Confused?
This week I want to look at the question of clarity.
My premise is that when you can see things clearly, there are plenty of potential benefits, so taking the time to make sure that you are truly seeing things clearly is usually well worth it.
Family businesses are full of ambiguous situations that can often exist for years or even decades. Many roles and responsibilities are poorly defined, but somehow, sometimes almost miraculously, things still manage to get done.
Family businesses are notoriously resilient.
One of the major challenges that most business families face is clear communication. It has always been that way, and probably always will be.
Of course each person has their own communication style, and some are simply better at it than others.
When I work with a family, I’ll often spend more time at the outset just working with them to make sure that they all really understand each other than on anything else.
I also believe that just about anyone can improve their communication abilities, if they want to. Part of my job is usually to make them understand why it’s worth their effort to do so.
It Starts at the Top – But…
We’ve all heard that everything important starts at the top. I agree with that, in general, but that doesn’t mean that if you aren’t the one at the top, there’s nothing you can do.
Communication is a two-way street. To me, that means that the “sender” and the “receiver” of any communication have a responsibility to make sure that the message was understood.
One of my favourite expressions is this one, is attributed to George Bernard Shaw:
“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Allow Me to Clarify
Now, in the interest of being “ultra” clear, I will try to make sure that everyone reading this understands what this means.
The biggest problem with communication is that very often the person who has spoken or written something truly believes that the person to whom they were speaking or writing actually received and understood the message as it was intended.
Unfortunately, far too often, in reality, the person either did not receive the message, or they got it, but didn’t understand it.
I personally drive my family members crazy sometimes with my obsession to handle my end of any communication. “Did you hear me? Could you please acknowledge that you understood?”
Getting Back to Confused Versus Concerned
The idea for this blog came from seeing someone’s face and trying to evaluate what was going on in their mind. I do this a lot, and you probably do too, even if it is only done subconsciously.
The particular situation isn’t important (and, truth be told, I don’t even recall what sparked it) but it struck me that sometimes people appear concerned about a situation, but if only they were less confused, they would end up less concerned.
Clear Up the Confusion
My “prescription” for many families is pretty much the same.
Clear up the confusion, the ambiguity, the “fog” and the uncertainty, and everyone will have less things about which to be “concerned”.
This is why families so often feel “stuck” in a situation and then due to inertia, they remain there.
It is usually only when something changes that they get propelled into action.
Shine a Light
Quite often what the family really needs is an additional perspective on things. Each person in the family is naturally preoccupied with their own situation, which they typically only see from their own viewpoint.
When they bring in a person from the outside, who can then shine the flashlight onto some of the areas of confusion and ambiguity, things get a bit more clear.
If the person with the flashlight is also skilled at facilitating a conversation around ways to determine a collective shared viewpoint that everyone can buy into, then they can really start to make progress.
The word “consternation” came up when I was thinking through this “confused vs concerned” idea. I wondered why the word “consterned” doesn’t exist. Maybe I just invented it.
So, if you are consterned with things going on in your family business, I suggest that you work on ways to clarify things first.
When things are clearer, you’ll have fewer things to be concerned about.