The Perils of Poor Communication

Father: Rick, I thought this project was going to be completed yesterday.


Son: I’m sure I’ll be able to get to it later today, but first I want to…


Father: Now, Rick, wait a minute, first I really want you to get this finished. And while we’re at it, it isn’t getting done the way it should be…


Son: Sure, Dad, like it’s not getting done the way you would do it, right?


Writing as one who enjoyed twenty-two years working with my father in our family’s business, I would argue that when things go well, there is no greater reward than to share the extraordinary high of mutual success. But when the going gets tough and the business systems are operating at maximum strain, the family relationships are most in jeopardy and the pain most intense.


So what makes it work, when it works? In our view, effective communication is one of the keys to family business harmony.

The miscommunication between Rick and his dad is based on a few points:

  1. 1. Dad’s priority for completing the project may not have been understood by Rick.
  2. 2. Rick had different priorities that his dad may not have known.
  3. 3. Dad has expectations about the manner in which the project is getting done that he has not previously shared with Rick.
  4. 4. Rick has different ideas about how the project should be done.
  5. 5. A lot of negative energy is building up in both Rick and his dad that is about to turn into a confrontation.


How could they have prevented this problem before it occurred? To do so, when first discussing the project:

  1. 1. Dad and Rick need to understand how this project fits into each other’s priorities.
  2. 2. They need to agree on a deadline for the project’s completion.
  3. 3. Both Dad and Rick need to anticipate that Rick will probably not do the project the same way that Dad would do it and if that is not acceptable, discuss it in advance so Rick will know what is expected of him.


This process may require a few extra steps, but anticipating how things can go wrong before they occur can frequently save more time in the long run – and potentially save your family business from the perils of poor communication.



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