Communication is the Single Biggest Issue in Family Businesses – Here are Some Steps to Improve

Of all the concerns we hear about from business families, none can trump “communication.”  Despite the fact that we have two ears and only one mouth, all too many people believe communication is a one way activity.  With clients and customers, we believe we need to tell them what we have to offer and what they can gain.  With employees, we preach our mission and ask their buy-in.  And with family members we offer our opinions and ideas.

When we treat “communicate” as a transitive verb, we’re really saying “It’s all about us.”  How about putting others first?  I once read that in conversation with another person, 90% of people, 90% of the time, put 90% of their energy into crafting a response to what the other is saying.  It’s not that we’re trying to be rude, it’s just that we only listen at the rate of 125-250 words per minute, but we’re able to think at the rate that is ten times faster.

Back in the 1960s, marketing guru and McKinsey Award winner, Theodore Levitt, got it right.  In his seminal article, Marketing Myopia, he taught us to give the customer what the customer wants. To do so, of course, requires understanding what the customer wants and to do that, we’ve got to listen.  Or, simply stated in the words of Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Effective communication requires effort, but more important it requires care.   Here are some steps to consider:

1.  With customers, we need to ask questions to seek their needs.
2.  With employees, we need to ask how we can help them.
3.  With business family members, we need to hear their differing perspectives and ask   questions to gain the in-depth understanding that an effective response demands.

For all three audiences, incorporate active listening.  Be sure you understood what the other person is saying prior to responding and in turn, be sure the other person heard you as you intended.  Don’t be afraid to ask, “Does that make sense?” Clear communication produces a better chance of understanding each other’s needs resulting in better alignment.

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