When listing problems that business families face, communication is usually one of the first things people mention.
Because it’s seen as a “big” problem, many people think that it requires a “big” solution.
I beg to differ.
“100 One-Minute Conversations”
The initial idea for this post came from something I saw online recently, that talked about “100 one-minute conversations”, which in most cases are a better way to go than just having one, long, 100-minute discussion.
I wish I’d saved it so I could credit the source, because Googling it didn’t help me solve the mystery.
In any event, it lines up nicely with some of the other things I’ve talked about before, notably here: The Dimmer Switch vs. the On/Off
Clearing Up Any Illusions
My favourite quote about communication is from George Bernard Shaw, “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
Let me spell it out just in case you didn’t get it.
The biggest problem for people communicating with each other is when the person who says something believes that the receiver heard and understood them, and they’re wrong, but they assume they’re right.
Why did I take the time to spell that out?
Because if I continued this blog while assuming that you understood what I meant, but you didn’t, then I would have been committing the exact faux pas that I was trying to explain.
Conversations as a Subset of Communication
Of course communication comprises much more than verbal discussions, which are in fact only a small fraction of the entire communication “platform” that any enterprising family uses.
These families need to share lots of information to remain united enough to properly manage the assets they own together.
But while everyone can see what’s written in a family newsletter or on their Facebook page, I contend that it’s in the smaller groups, and the quicker, more regular conversations, that the most important communication actually happens.
Yes, you need to have the big formal, structural communication platforms, but, and it’s a big but, if that’s all you have, then there’s a lot missing.
Heart to Heart
The simplest way to make this point is to consider the expression “Heart to heart”.
What makes family businesses different from other businesses is the family element. Plain old communication might be sufficient for “regular companies”, but for a family business, being owned and run by a family, there needs to be a lot more heart.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about “heart to heart communication”, by I know I’ve heard people mention a “heart to heart talk”, or “heart to heart conversation”.
The (Lost) Art of Conversation
Speaking of expressions, we’ve all heard about the “art of conversation”, and I contend that in some ways all of the technology we’ve been using to communicate has made conversing together a bit of a lost art.
But here’s the good news, and I even just Googled it to make sure it makes sense.
You can get better at it, with practice. Yes, I just searched “do you practice art” to make sure, and I got plenty of hits.
Whether it’s playing music, or painting, or sculpting, one improves the more one practices their favourite art.
And so it is with conversations.
Small Groups, One-on-One
Conversations can happen all the time, mostly in small groups or even simply one-on-one situations.
They don’t necessarily have to be structured, scripted or planned in advance, and in reality, the more natural and free flowing they are, the better.
Sometimes the hardest thing about them is just making them happen, especially now that simply picking up the phone to call someone seems to rarely happen these days.
Conversations With Your Coach
One of my favourite ways of actually putting some structure to conversations is to have them be regularly scheduled.
I have a call over Zoom with my coach every week, and I have calls with my coaching clients typically every other week, which seems to work well.
Having things “on the calendar” might be the best way to make sure that you’re staying in touch enough.
Seven Years Later
Way back in 2013 I wrote Having Conversations, Not Just Communicating. And I guess it’s still just as valid today as it was back then.