Subtle Changes Make a Huge Difference

The ideas for these posts come from all over the place and from people who hail from many different locations

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in the past year or so, a bunch of them have come from webinars or other virtual settings.

This one comes from a webinar hosted by someone I never met, but whose two guests are both friends of mine, even though I’ve only actually met one of them in person.

It was yet another instance where upon hearing a certain sentence, I immediately jotted it down so that I could properly recall it for use as inspiration here.


Not an African Proverb

One of my favourite posts here over the years, which I also recorded as a video, was If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone; If You Want to Go Far, Go Together.

The lengthy title there is also an African proverb, which served as my inspiration. This week my inspiration comes from Africa once again, but it was from a story told by Nike Anani, a friend I’ve yet to meet in person, from Nigeria.

Nike was a webinar guest, along with Mitzi Perdue, who I have met, and she was relating an early experience of hers as a member of her family business.

Nike had recently returned home to join the business, after working in the corporate world in the UK.  Her return to a smaller, less professional work environment required some adjustment.

 

Questioning Everything

As she put it, soon after arriving, she began “Questioning everything”.  She elaborated, making it clear that her attitude in those early days was less than ideal, and she was not simply asking questions.

While noticing the self-awareness required to recognize this in retrospect, I also made sure to capture the spirit she was conveying about her feeling of superiority based on her corporate experience, and how she was dismayed by how things were being done in the FamBiz.

With the benefit of some hindsight and added maturity, she now realizes how important it is to ask questions, grounded in genuine curiosity, rather than “questioning” how everything was being done.

 

Different Kinds of Questions

Courtroom drama fans and politics junkies are familiar with many techniques of asking questions that are really more about getting their point across.

When thinking about this I also flash back to days when my own kids were much younger and also employed dubious questioning techniques of each other.

I distinctly recall exchanges including, “What? I was only asking a question!”, to which I’d reply “Yes, I know, but ‘why do you always have to be such an A-hole’ is also ‘Just a question’ too”.

I suppose that in many ways that was in fact a rhetorical question on my part, but I digress.

 

Better Questions Require an Absence of Judgement

I’m pretty sure that if pressed, Nike would admit that most of her “questioning” in those early days was also accompanied by a whole lot of prejudgement, where she had already assumed that she knew better than the person to whom she was addressing her comments.

The best questions, as she now realizes, are founded in true curiosity, and in fact include a complete absence of judgement.

Here I’m addressing not only “prejudgement”, but also any judgement when one hears the answer.  See Judgement, Not Judgement.

One of the first big takeaways from my coaching training is that “listening without judgement” is the first thing you need to practice and train yourself to do to be successful.

 

The Family Governance Angle

As we move to wrap this up, I want to look at this topic from the other angle, i.e. the ones who are on the receiving end of the questions, or the questioning, as the case may be.

Most families have what I call an “information asymmetry”, where there are certain members who are in the know and who control much of the day-to-day activity, and others who act as “interested bystanders” much of the time.

The “bystanders” will often have questions, and the insiders do typically “owe” them answers, in many respects.

Insofar as the insiders are able to provide coherent answers, they will also minimize and forestall the potential for questioning from these other stakeholders.

If the attitude of “how dare you question me” is replaced by one resembling “of course you can ask”, that is a recipe for more harmonious relationships going forward.

No question about it!

Class Assignment

(This week’s post is the slightly edited text of a class presentation that I made this week at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. where I just completed my first year in their Post-Graduate Training Program.)

 

According to what it says on my business card, I’m a “Family Legacy Advisor”.

My beliefs, which I’ll share with you today, are very much about how I see that work, and how I’m becoming inextricably tied to it.

More and more, it’s becoming who I am, and not simply what I do.

Here are three of my foundational beliefs:

  • I believe that Family Harmony holds the Key to a Family’s Legacy
  • I believe it’s always worth making the effort to improve family harmony
  • I believe working on family harmony is a lot of work, and, it all starts with working on self

 

How did I get to this point? 

I had my calling 4 years ago, doing the course work in a program called Family Enterprise Advisor

There, we learned the three-circle model, Business, Family, and Ownership, with each circle representing a system.

It dawned on me that for the first 4-plus decades of my life, I’d been led to believe that the Business circle was the only one that mattered.

As my studies progressed, I soon began to understand that the Family circle was more important, and it was often neglected, and that I was naturally more attuned to the important work that often needs to be done in the family circle.

So, I began working on myself, with coaching training, mediation courses, and facilitation programs, including an entire suite of courses in a program called Third Party Neutral.

And of course I began training in Bowen Family SystemsTheory.

 

How has my Bowen work contributed?

Well, starting with two years in Vermont, in their program, and this year here in DC, my Bowen Theory work has helped me in a number of ways.

It has:

  • Sharpened my focus on the effort involved
  • Emphasized the work on self,
  • And continuously reminded me that this work is a never-ending pursuit

 

Challenges

My calling came along with a desire to “help” people and families to deal with issues that I myself had dealt with in my family.

My mistakes, my parents’ mistakes, and the ones that I discovered when I married into another business family, were all there as experience that I wanted to transfer into wisdom to be shared.

But as WE all understand, telling people what they should do doesn’t work so well, so transforming myself into someone who “does Bowen” was an idea that I thought would be useful.

 

Bowen Family Systems Theory

I’ve since discovered that you can’t just “do” Bowen, you actually have to sort of “be” Bowen. Not Dr. Bowen, but maybe be a “Bowenite”.

Learning a new way to “be” so that you can lead people, and model behavior for people, takes time, practice, and effort.

One huge challenge that I’m just now starting to comprehend is the difference between HELPING people and being a RESOURCE for people.

The difference sounds subtle, but it’s actually quite stark.

You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, and trying to help them is quite often counter-productive.

 

Moving Forward

My way forward is to become a resource to people who want to improve their family harmony, and in order for me to “be” that resource, I need to continue to make the effort to understand myself.

My Bowen training has helped me understand many things in a new and improved way, and I feel like I’m miles ahead of where I was just a few short years ago.

But, my understanding of self, and my work on differentiation, feels like it has so much further to go.

 

Understanding Self and Others

As I understand myself better, I understand others better as well.

These efforts are worth it, for me, for my family, and for whichever families seek me out as a resource for their own work on harmony, as part of their desire to preserve their legacy.

And so I added one more belief:

I believe that I can actually help more families by acting as a resource to them, instead of trying to help them.

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Aenean commodo ligula eget dolor. Aenean massa. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Donec quam felis, ultricies nec, pellentesque eu, pretium quis, sem. Nulla consequat massa quis enim. Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu. In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo.

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