Throughout the summer, we will be offering a series of blog posts inspired by Crucial Conversations, our 2019 theme book that all Members received. These blogs will help you prepare for our September 19th Breakfast Forum: Best Practices In Family Business Communication.
When I was a kid I wasn’t always nice to my older sister. Shocking, I know. And when I would say something mean my mom, like many others across this great country, would respond “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That’s probably not terrible advice when you are eight and aren’t capable of expressing your feelings in healthy ways.
The problem becomes when we start to believe that sharing our true feelings isn’t nice. Somewhere along the way I got the impression that sharing any information that wasn’t positive or that might make someone uncomfortable wasn’t nice. If you’re like me, it was easy to start to believe that we have to choose between being nice and being honest. Or, as our theme book this year, Crucial Conversations, says it, “The mistake most of us make in our crucial conversations is we believe we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend” (p. 22).
The more I work with family businesses, the more I can confidently say this: not sharing our true feelings tends to do more damage than sharing them. There are many skills that are important in navigating the complexity of family business but near the top of that list is the ability to have crucial conversations with the people you care about the most.
The authors of the book define a crucial conversation as a conversation that has three key ingredients:
- There are different opinions.
- The stakes are high.
- The emotions are strong.
Family businesses are often making decisions on a weekly, if not daily, basis where these three ingredients are in the mix. What is the skill that we need to develop if we are going to be in high-stakes, emotional conversations with people who think differently than us? In the book, the authors call this the art of Dialogue. “When it comes to risky, controversial, and emotional conversations, skilled people find a way to get all relevant information (from themselves and others) out into the open. That’s it. At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information . . . Now, to put a label on this spectacular talent – it’s called dialogue” (p. 23).
So, I would like to dispel the myth that the way to get along is to keep quiet about how you feel. That’s a way to pretend like nothing is wrong but in our experience, people can only pretend for so long. Rather than ignoring our problems, we recommend working on the skills to navigate them in open, honest, and healthy ways. That’s what this year at DVFBC is about and what we will be discussing in this blog series and at our FORUM on September 19. Hope you can join us.