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Meaningful Conversations

Stranberg Resource Group recently had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Carolyn Friend, a founding partner at Inheriting Wisdom. Dr. Friend helps family businesses transfer their legacies from one generation to the next.

In this conversation, we explore how conversational nuance can support or undermine critical dialogue in family businesses.

Meaningful conversations form the basis of strong relationships.

In a family business, having a meaningful conversation can be difficult due to the multiple roles family members play in our daily lives. Being a family member (son, daughter, aunt, uncle, etc), is fundamentally different than being a peer, boss or subordinate at work. When families work together, these roles can conflate and cause unwelcome or awkward tension.

Consider this scenario:

The Vice President of Operations plans a meeting to discuss retirement and succession planning with the CEO, who is also her mother.

A discussion between a mother and a daughter about retirement is entirely different than a VP and CEO discussing succession. Without carefully considering the roles that each person plays, an important conversation can be derailed.

In family businesses, patterns that develop across lifelong relationships can perpetuate and become entrenched modes of behavior that prevent us from evolving our relationships.

When the subject matter is critical, meaningful conversations requires a strategy. Dr. Carolyn Friend, Co-Founder of Inheriting Wisdom, has build a framework to help individuals and family businesses improve their conversation so they can gain traction on what’s important.

Rule #1: Be Present.

Set the stage.

Here’s a universal rule for meaningfully connecting with someone: Silence your phone, close your laptop, turn off all digital communications/ notifications. Give your audience 100% of your attention.

The first step to Being Present is to reflect on your own patterns of behavior and identify scenarios that are counterproductive.

Consider the VP of Operations Scenario discussed above, and think about the following questions:

  1. How to I relate to my mother outside of work: What do we talk about? What language do we use? Do I call her ‘Mom’?

  2. How do I talk to my boss while at work: are off-work topics interjected in work conversations? What language do we use? Do I call my boss ‘Mom’?

  3. ·What types of conversations are hard to gain traction on, and why: is there a pattern of behavior that prevents us from making progress?

The next step is to pick a role. Are you professionals discussing a critical business issue or are you family members discussing your personal lives? Yes, in reality, you are both simultaneously; but, to make progress you need pick a role and set your stage for the conversation accordingly.

In marketing parlance, it means knowing your audience. When the subject matter is truly important, think about to whom you are speaking, what your relationship with that person is, what patterns your share with that person, and how those patterns can help or hurt you.

Rule #2 Be Clear

Know your message and how you will communicate it.

Let’s evolve the scenario from above. You are a VP reporting to the CEO, your mother. It is important to remember that your intention is to focus on the sustainability and growth of the business, yet it is important at the same time to acknowledge her contribution.