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.

There’s a famous scene in the movie The Notebook where Ryan Gosling asks Rachel McAdams, “Would you stop thinking about what everyone wants. Stop thinking about what I want, what he wants, what your parents want. What do you want? What do you want?”

This is a very simple question to understand but we have found that in family business it can be a very tricky question to answer. There are so many emotions and thoughts to consider:

• What will make my parents proud of me?
• What will disappoint them?
• Will it hurt my sister’s feelings if I tell her I feel she’s not doing a good job?
• Am I here because I want to be here or because it’s safe to be here?

And on and on it goes.

When it comes to good communication in a family business, knowing what you want is a crucial first step. There are many ways that this question, “What do you want?” applies in Family Business but we’ll briefly just talk about why it’s important when you are having a potentially emotional conversation. The authors of the book Crucial Conversations, which is our theme book this year, talk about three questions to remind yourself of when you are headed into a potentially emotional, difficult conversation:

What do I really want for myself?
What do I really want for others?
What do I really want for this relationship?

Staying Focused On What You Really Want
Sometimes, when we get into crucial conversations, it’s easy to lose sight of what we really want. Maybe we want recognition, we want to feel heard, or we want to do a project our way. Maybe we want a raise or a certain decision to be made. Whatever it is, it’s important to identify it and lock into it. That’s not to say that what you want won’t change but it will help you navigate hard conversations if you keep your eye on what you really want. Why?

When emotions get high, our brains can quickly and subtly change our motives. We might go into a conversation wanting to build a relationship or get a result but when things get heated we tend to switch motives to three unhelpful goals: to win the argument, to punish the person, or to keep the peace. Or, as the book puts it, “We start out with the goal of resolving a problem, but as soon as someone raises the red flag of inaccuracy or challenges our correctness, we switch purposes in a heartbeat . . . When faced with pressure and strong opinions, we often stop worrying about the goal . . . and start looking for ways to win, punish, or keep the peace” (p. 38).

If we know what we want, and why we are having a certain conversation, it will be easier for us to remind ourselves when things get heated what we are there for in the first place. We can ask, “I got into this conversation for this reason – is what I am doing going to lead to that result?”

One reason we don’t tell people what we want is we feel it’s selfish. We talked a few posts ago about why that’s not true so we won’t rehash that here. However, one thing we didn’t talk about is that the question, “What do you want?” helps with something really important: it reminds us that the only person we are in charge of is ourselves. Or, as the book says it, “As much as others may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape – with any degree of success – is the person in the mirror” (p. 35).

If we all took more responsibility for self-reflection and self-awareness around what we truly want in our work and in our family relationships, we would be able to work toward real solutions instead of getting caught in conversations that get derailed from what the true aim is.

Of course, knowing what you want is just the first step toward good communication. We’ll talk about other practical skills in upcoming posts. If you’re interested in more information about communication and the family business, be sure to sign up for our September FORUM . . .

Jared Byas

Partner, Family Business Advisor
Jared WEB

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