The High Cost of Miscommunication (and 4 Reasons Why It Happens)

It can happen in a fraction of a second. All it takes is a shrug, a sigh, or a small signal of body language to turn a well-intentioned conversation into an unhealthy one.

Did it really mean what you thought it did? 

Have you ever been in a situation where you stopped a conversation because you saw your sister roll her eyes and you thought, “There she goes again, judging what I say and thinking she’s better than me.” 

Or maybe you made a quick judgment after reading – or misreading — someone’s body language. In doing so, you take the conversation down a different path that neither one of you wishes to travel.  

Suddenly, too much energy is being focused on a perceived slight rather than the more vital topic at hand. How can you stop this derailment from happening?

Communicating clearly and openly is a vital skill. And most of us think we are better at it than we actually are.

What we say is only a small part of what we communicate.  Communication relies on up of 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% the words we use.  While you may focus on crafting the perfect speech or presentation to build your case for the family business, it can all fall apart if you send a subtle cue of disrespect or by inadvertently making one sibling feel ignored or shut out.

Different generations have their own ways of sharing information. As a result, good intentions can be easily undermined if a grandchild doesn’t respond well to a direct conversation that would have worked magically with a sibling.

Family dynamics are challenging enough before throwing the added element of finances into the mix. One of the biggest reasons that the proverbial “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” occurs is the lack of effective two-way conversations. If you don’t understand the intentions of the person running the business, or who will be running it in the future, then how can you effectively plan ahead.

You cannot. That’s why you have to openly talk it out.

The statistics tell the real story of the risks ahead if you don’t. 

  • About one-third of family-owned businesses succeed to the second generation.
  • Fewer than 15% pass onto the third generation.
  • Only 3% carry on to the fourth generation.

That should get your attention.

The pitfalls between the succession to a new operator are plentiful:

  • The successor isn’t ready or doesn’t have clear expectations of their role.
  • The founder doesn’t share information, thinking their heirs understand what to do or feeling jealous of their possible success.
  • The lack of a plan based on clear roles of ‘who will do what’ in a transfer.
  • A pattern of or desire to avoid difficult conversations about sensitive matters, particularly wealth and life after a parent’s death.

Lack of clear communications leads to six out of 10 succession plans stalling or failing. After all the work that has gone into building your family’s enterprise, do you really want to watch it slip away because you couldn’t talk candidly? It’s such a small thing to do.

Rather than assuming your sister is judging you and letting your emotions rise, go to a place of kindness and curiosity.  Gently ask, “I noticed your eyes move. May you tell me what that was about?” You may be surprised to learn that a dust particle caught her attention.

Family members who listen to each other can collaborate and accomplish something amazing, even when they want different things. Spending time together and truly listening to one another can build understanding, trust, improve decision-making, and create unity.

To get on this path, you may need a guide to keep those questions and channel of communication open. I’ve been there and understand how a third-party can neutralize a conversation and make sure everyone stays on track.

Read more of this story in my new book launching this fall! Make sure you sign up to my email list to get the latest updates!

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