Effective Communication In The Family Business During A Crisis Like Covid-19
Combining family and business is challenging and can be frustrating when things are going well, but when a crisis like Covid-19 hits...pressure builds and emotions can blow sky high. It takes work from all parties involved to manage emotions. With the current pandemic we have greater uncertainty and anxiety about our physical and financial health as well as the future of our multi-unit franchisee business. As a result, it is easy to feel out of control, feel panic, and beat up on the ones you love, creating conflict and frustration.
You can't run a business like a family, and you can't run a family like a business. It is believed that Gene Wilder once said, "The trouble with communication is that most people think it actually occurred." Communication is difficult at best. I think there's good reason for this. Most experts in the arena of communication will tell you that 93% of it is non-verbal. Only 7% is the words we use and yet words are so powerful! If we could just learn to use them.
Let's assume these stats are actually true. Most of communication does not involve words. So when you are frustrated and walk out of a conversation, you just communicated something to the person you were in a conversation with. A significant problem is that without words, the listener, who might be trying to listen, is left in a position of not hearing because nothing is being said. The only alternative is for them to interpret what you were trying to communicate when you walked out. Anger? Disinterest? Fear? Criticism? Hurt? Feeling Unsafe? Words are so much easier to understand.
During difficult times family members need each others' support the most. As a multi-unit franchisee, you may have had to close certain locations or your entire business, and been forced to furlough or lay off employees you cared about. The future is unclear. This is when communication can be most difficult. It's more important now than ever to fully realize that there are two major components to communication that fit within the stats: expressing yourself and listening. Let's unpack these.
In family relationships it's easy to assume that other family members know your needs, your feelings, your opinions, and how to accurately interpret the 93% of your non-verbal communication. In other words, we kind of expect our family members to be able to effectively read the tea leaves. Mindreading, however, can lead to anger, frustration, resentment, hurt, disappointment, loneliness, and other emotionally complicating responses. So to improve your communication, and get better at expressing your thoughts and feelings, you may need to:
- Take time to listen to yourself first. Asking yourself, "What do I think about this? What am I feeling right now?"
- State your thoughts and feelings as clearly, honestly, and constructively as you can.
- Focus on how the situation or issue affecting you rather than assigning blame to the other person or pointing out something they did or said that you think is causing your reaction: "I really need to talk to you," rather than "You never listen to me."
- Describe your feelings - "I feel belittled." Many of us need to work on our emotional intelligence and expanding our vocabulary list of feeling words.
- Be succinct and specific.
- Don't avoid difficult conversations out of fear of how the other person is going to respond. This is a real challenge for most of us.
- Be mindful of your non-verbal communication. Your family knows you and believes what your tone of voice, facial expressions, and posture are saying more quickly than what your words are saying.
On the flip side, getting good at listening requires a lot of effort. When you listen well, you encourage others to express themselves and talk about what's important to them. I'm good at pretending to listen while I'm doing or thinking about something else. That kind of listening is not just ineffective, it's rude. Listening effectively demands an attitude of respect, openness, and acceptance. I don't have to agree with what my family member is saying, but I need to respect that they are an individual with their own views that may be largely different from my perspective. I must be willing to hear where they are coming from. Listening also requires being attentive. Put aside what you're doing, stop formulating your response while they are talking, and show them you intend to really hear them. Check your interpretations of their feelings. Clarify - "Are you saying...?" Feedback helps complete the communication cycle - that cycle is express to listener, listener hears, listener clarifies what they heard, speaker confirms they heard correctly - cycle complete. Any shortcut to that cycle represents incomplete communication.
Finally, for families in business together there is often an assumption that because you are in the same building, you are communicating. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. There's a lot of passing each other in the hallway, both literally and figuratively. Families must create the time and space for effective and safe communication, one-on-one and as a group. Be sure to set aside special time for difficult problem-solving conversations. A family business council is an appropriate forum to create to assist your family with improving communication.
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