Aren’t the Three Rules “Communicate, communicate, communicate”?
This week I want to touch on one of the sacred cows of the family business space, and that’s the constant harping on the fact that improving communication is THE number one step that families need to work on.
Regular readers know that I fully acknowledge that most family enterprises are quite complex, and therefore the way that they communicate with each other can almost always be improved for the benefit of all.
This remains true, and almost surely will for as long as families choose to work together or share the ownership of assets as a group.
So I’m not planning on throwing communication “under the bus”, but I do want to shine a light on the way some people treat the subject, and simultaneously ignore a much less popular aspect of what it takes for relationships to be at their best.
So What Is It That’s Underrated?
Before I get to the underrated element, I need to give a shout out and a tip of the hat to the man who put this on my radar a couple of months back.
I discovered the Vermont Center for Family Studies almost a decade ago, when I was trying to figure out why people who work with business families should go through the trouble of learning about Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST).
At the time, the head of VCFS, Erik Thompson, just happened to be launching a training program for people curious about BFST, so I jumped at the opportunity to dive into the Bowen pool.
I soon discovered that this pool doesn’t have a shallow end, which I suppose is a good thing, since I did dive in.
So perhaps you think that understanding family systems is underrated, vis-à-vis communication, and I guess you’d be partly correct, but that’s way deeper than where I’m going.
Making Relationships Work Better
Families who continue to work together from one generation to the next need to constantly work on their relationships, because those relationships are crucial to being able to continue to make decisions together for the benefit of the family group.
Good communication will of course contribute to such relationships, but there’s a lot more to it than simply more and clearer communication.
Thompson now holds regular free online events on Zoom where he shares ideas that come from his BFST training that he now uses with his leadership coaching clients.
It was during one of these recent calls that he said the magic words that inspired this post:
“Communication is Overrated. Self-Regulation is Underrated!”
Okay, so any regular reader will know that at this point I jotted those words down with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I had just landed myself a blog topic.
There Are Two Parties in Any Communication
Whenever there’s any communication, there are (at least) two parties, one who’s attempting to deliver the communication, and someone else, who’s the intended recipient.
On which end do you suppose the self-regulation comes into focus?
This is a bit of a trick question, I’ll admit.
Your first inclination might be to consider the receiver of the communication, and the importance of not overreacting to what was said (or written). And that makes plenty of sense.
But, and this is where Thompson was actually pointing, too often it is the people who are delivering the communication who could benefit from working on their self-regulation.
Communication as a Weapon
He then related a scenario that came from the “couple’s therapy” realm that some may be familiar with.
Two spouses are encouraged to work on the ways that they communicate. One dives in head first and begins reading up and studying and taking communication courses, so as to be better armed for the task.
However, lacking the requisite self-regulation, they now use this “one-up” position to lord this over their partner.
“I’m communicating properly, you’re not!”
Can you see how the communication “silver bullet” clearly missed the mark?
Can you imagine a similar scenario with family members who work together?
It’s Never as Simple as It Appears
This is yet another example where “how you are” (i.e. being) is more important that “what you do” (i.e. doing).
Self-regulation is the “being” part, while communication is the “doing” part.
Yes, continue to work on how you “do” communicate.
And, also focus on how you regulate yourself when you’re doing it.