Think of this week’s thoughtwave as an editorial on communication in family business…

Communication is hard. The dynamics of family and business brought together make it even tougher. To be clear; you don’t have to be a member of the family to be a part of the communication dynamic in the business, you simply have to be present.

Communication, or the lack thereof, has the potential to contribute to success, failure, disaster or something in between. If you think that’s dramatic, think about the number of times where a problem could have been resolved, confronted or avoided if the people involved had communicated effectively.

Communication’s contribution to success occurs when it’s used to engage and inspire people, work through challenges and achieve sound decisions and outcomes for people and the business. Sounds simple enough, right? So, why doesn’t it happen? Because it’s not that simple and because people often pay more lip service to communication than they do the effort, emphasis and priority to make communication real and meaningful. Worse yet, they may not have engaged the brain power required to communicate.

Communication, by its very definition, is a system, process or technique and because of that it requires thought and purpose. Opening one’s mouth doesn’t guarantee that communication is occuring. It may mean that someone is doing nothing more than talking. Throw in the personal agenda or bias of an individual, or group of individuals, involved in the family business and you don’t have communication, you have manipulation.

The artful, unfair or insidious means that someone uses to serve their individual purpose has no place in family business or business in general. If it sounds disturbing, that’s because it is. Manipulation disguised as communication represents nothing more than distorted leadership, and distorted leadership leads to disaster for the family business. Distortion twists and alters the view of the business, decisions, the family, and everyone and everything that’s a part of the company out of its natural shape, rhythm and form. Distorted leadership eventually becomes disastrous leadership—creating detrimental outcomes for all involved.

In the world of family business, or any business for that matter, an individual’s bias or agenda as the foundation of decision is problematic. It has the potential to become well-practiced manipulation under the guise of leadership and communication. The greater returns and results come through communication—pure communication—in the form of objectivity, consistency, a common language of purpose and the expansion of dialogue between people to achieve optimized outcomes.

Be real or be gone. If you find yourself playing a dangerous balancing act between communication and manipulation, your leadership and communication offer no value to the future of family business. Refocus and reframe, be honest and open rather than calculating and divisive.

Over the last thirty years of being engaged in, leading, or advising families in business, I’ve watched as communication, or the lack thereof, has directly contributed to the success, failure and functional dysfunction in family business. Through my own communication, or lack thereof, I’ve directly contributed to the success, failure and functional dysfunction of my own business. No person or business is immune. Correcting for this begins with valuing the communication process and understanding the power that comes when you do more than just talk.

With intent,

P.S. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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