Why is it so hard to communicate within a family system? I wish I had the simple answer. It seems like in almost every family honest, productive communication can be a challenge.
Here are a couple of things I do know.
Communication, like every other skill, takes practice to not only get good at, but also to maintain your effectiveness.
Good, healthy communication is the lifeblood of a healthy family and family business.
Here are three fundamental skills for you and your family to work on:
1. Learn to Listen
That simple. Turn off the phone, look away from the computer, stop thinking about your response and just listen. Shut up and listen.
It’s amazing to me how awful most of us are at this. It’s also amazing what an impact just listening to the other person can have. It can be such a great way to disarm a situation and/or strengthen a relationship.
A good way to keep yourself listening is to mirror back. Repeat what you heard, check in, verify what they said. Regardless if you agree with what’s being said you can say, “I hear you” or “I’m sorry you’re feeling that way.”
2. Practice Speaking with Compassion
Learn to speak in ways that minimally offend or trigger others. Sure, it’s good to speak your mind, and it’s also good to do it in a way that has compassion wrapped around it.
People make mistakes, they have limitations, they will disappoint you. Rather than just get upset, try to have some compassion and be a leader or inspire change.
When you speak to them try to bring some compassion and humility and a warm heart. Why? If you can say it with some compassion, there is a much higher likelihood your message will be received better. In the end isn’t that what you want? That what you have to say will make a difference?
One of my colleagues said it best, “Throw the ball in a way the other person can catch it.”
3. Keep a Calm Demeanor
Even as I wrote this I thought… wait… being calm isn’t actually communicating… but yes it is. Body language and mood impacts communication. The more I can remain cool and calm when my sister is saying something, the more I have a chance to have a rational, good response. If I allow her to “trigger” me, then I will react with anger, which will be written all over my face, which will further trigger the situation.
Sure, what she said might make me angry, and I want to honor my true self and emotions. At the same time, the more I can remain calm in the face of opposing viewpoints or upsetting behavior, the more I have a chance to influence a better outcome. I can still be upset, and I can be masterful at navigating the situation.
So pick one or two of these communication skills and get practicing! Send me any questions you have about this or share your successes or challenges.
Communicating in Ways that Work is one of the 20 practices that are part of the Family Business Playbook. Email me and I’ll be glad to give you a copy of the exercise to use with your family.
Pete Walsh is a demanding, courageous and playful Master Coach in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the founder of Peak Workout Business Coaching and the Family Business Performance Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.