October 24, 2017: Fostering Constructive Communication, Part One

By Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

Families and businesses, indeed all of humanity, are tied together by their systems of communication, but communication is not easy.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing some strategies to help improve communication and avoid those “in one ear and out the other” situations. First, however, we take a look at why it’s so difficult.

Effective listening is very challenging for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that humans think much faster than they talk. The average rate of speech for most Americans is around 125 words per minute while the human brain, made up of more than 13 billion cells, processes words at much higher speeds. As a result, there is a differential between thinking and speaking rates, allowing our brain spare time to continue thinking. This spare thinking time can make it difficult to concentrate on what another person is saying. [1]

We have all likely heard observations related to the notion of how often we “hear” but don’t “listen.” In fact, studies at the University of Minnesota found that the average person remembers only about half of what he or she has heard—no matter how carefully he thought he was listening. [2]

Unfortunately, without robust communication—and the right kind of communication—relationships can quickly deteriorate, putting family members at great risk of failing to understand each other, whether with respect to confusing finances, business plans, or any aspect of business. And the results can be costly.  Fortunately, there are a number of strategies informed by science that can enhance the quality of communicating and, so, reduce friction.

We’ll be taking a closer look at these strategies over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

[1].Ralph G. Nichols & Leonard A. Stevens, Listening to People, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Sept. 1957), https://hbr.org/1957/09/listening-to-people.

[2]. Id.

October 17, 2017: Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture: Showing Humility

By Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

This week we’re concluding our roundup of strategies that can help create or nurture a positive culture in the workplace. So far, we’ve identified (1) fostering social connections, (2) “promoting psychological safety,” (3) practicing gratitude, (4) being helpful, (5) showing empathy, (6) demonstrating compassion, and (7) practicing forgiveness as scientifically proven methods—which you can read more about in our previous blog posts.

Today, we’re focusing on one final approach: showing humility.

There is now a growing body of research confirming that practicing humility in the workplace—i.e., owning up to mistakes and being transparent about one’s own limitations, being receptive to feedback, and acknowledging the strengths and contributions of other team members listening—is not only an effective leadership strategy that nurtures a positive workplace culture, but an effective company growth strategy as well.[1]

From a family business perspective, particularly those run as partnerships between siblings and cousins, where individuals not only have disparate personalities but increasingly divergent circumstances with correspondingly diminishing shared genetic connections, reinforcing and authentically integrating these traits and behaviors will help create or maintain a workplace culture of acceptance, learning, and mutual support—which, in turn, enhances job satisfaction, employee engagement, performance, and, finally in turn, “bottom-line” growth.

Parents can help their children by 1) making caring for others a priority, 2) providing opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude, 3) expanding a child’s circle of concerns, 4) being a strong moral role model and mentor, 5) and guiding children in managing their destructive emotions. Many of these behaviors can be—must be—taught by parents to their children years before those children are old enough to start working in a family business.[2]

If you’ve ever thought about the difference between “hearing” and “listening,” then check back here next week. We’re shifting gears to focus on proven communication strategies that can help enhance businesses and beyond.

[1] See, e.g., Bradley P. Owens et al., Expressed Humility in Organizations: Implications for Performance, Teams, and Leadership, 24 Org. Sci. 1517 (2013); John Dame & Jeffrey Gedmin, Six Principles for Developing Humility as a Leader, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Sept. 09, 2013), https://hbr.org/2013/09/six-principles-for-developing; Richard Martin, Humility as a Desirable Personality Trait and a Construct of Effective Leadership: A Review of the Literature (2014) (unpublished manuscript), http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/conferences/virtual/2014/papers/2014_Moral_Leadership_Conference_Martin.pdf.

[2] See generally, e.g., Amy Joyce, Are You Raising Nice Kids? A Harvard Psychologist Gives 5 Ways to Raise Them To Be Kind, Wash. Post: On Parenting (July 18, 2014), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/07/18/are-you-raising-nice-kids-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-them-to-be-kind/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.784e98aba581

October 13, 2017: Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture: Demonstrating Compassion and Practicing Forgiveness

Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

Welcome back to the blog, where we’re looking at the many methods that can help cultivate a positive work culture.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve identified (1) fostering social connections, (2) “promoting psychological safety,” (3) practicing gratitude, (4) being helpful and (5) showing empathy as scientifically proven strategies. Today, we’re taking a look at two additional approaches.

Demonstrating compassion:

Media outlets and academic journals are sharing information on the scientific reasons compassion is so important to our lives (and businesses).[1] What we’ve learned from these studies is families in business together can practice compassion by encouraging one other, providing emotional support, and giving time off from work.

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s CompassionLab have found that leaders who demonstrate compassion toward employees nurture individual and organizational resilience that helps in managing challenges.[2]

Practicing forgiveness

While the scientific study of forgiveness is nascent, the work so far demonstrates the power of forgiveness, including in helping to heal emotional wounds and, by reducing stress, accompanying physical ailments.[3]

These studies show that families and businesses who don’t practice forgiveness stay mired in negativity, causing continuing pain, suffering, and damage to the business by time spent focusing on the hurt rather than pursuing opportunities that could be important to the business. Practicing forgiveness in a family business can sometimes mean the difference between passing the business down to another generation or having to sell or close it. Successful families know the importance of forgiveness and have learned how to forgive each other.

Check back here next week for the final installment of “Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture,” when we’ll be discussing why humility and transparency are key components of a positive workplace.

[1] See, e.g., Shimul Melwani et al., Looking Down: The Influence of Contempt and Compassion on Emergent Leadership Categorizations, 97 J. Applied Psychol. 1171 (2012); Aneil K. Mishra et al., Downsizing the Company Without Downsizing Morale, MIT Sloan Mgmt. R. (Apr. 1, 2009), http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/downsizing-the-company-without-downsizing-morale (noting the importance of compassion during corporate downsizing); Emma Seppala, 10 (Science-Based) Reasons Why Compassion is Hot, Huffington Post: The Blog, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/project-compassion-stanford/compassion_b_1676485.html (last updated Sept. 17, 2012).

[2] See CompassionLab, Leadership And Compassion, Univ. Michigan, http://www.bus.umich.edu/facultyresearch/research/TryingTimes/compassion.htm (last visited Mar. 20, 2017). Stanford University also has a Center for Compassion. See The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stan. Univ., http://ccare.stanford.edu/about/mission-vision (last visited Mar. 20, 2017).

[3] Stanford University has established a center to focus on the power of forgiveness. Frederic Luskin, The Art and Science of Forgiveness, Stan. Medicine (1999), http://sm.stanford.edu/archive/stanmed/1999summer/forgiveness.html. For more information on the emerging study of forgiveness, see generally Alex H. S. Harris et al., Effects of a Group Forgiveness Intervention on Forgiveness, Perceived Stress, and Trait Anger, 62 J. Clinical Psychol.  715 (2006).

October 5, 2017: Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture: Being Helpful and Showing Empathy

By Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

This week, as we continue our discussion of “Stage 4 Planning” and the benefits of positive psychology on family business dynamics, we’re examining two more ways in which to create a positive culture in the workplace.

So far we’ve identified three proven strategies, including (1) fostering social connections, (2) “promoting psychological safety,” and (3) practicing gratitude. Today, we’re adding (4) being helpful and (5) showing empathy.

Being Helpful

“Studies show that individuals who share with others in a group—for example, by contributing new ideas or directly assisting on projects not their own—are deemed more worthy of respect and influence and more suitable for leadership,” says Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, and the faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center. “Mike Norton at Harvard Business School has found that when organizations provide an opportunity to donate to charities at work, employees feel more satisfied and productive.”[1]

Showing Empathy

New studies in neuroscience have demonstrated the importance of empathy in the workplace. For example, researchers found through brain-imaging studies that “when employees recalled a boss that had been unkind or un-empathic, they showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion,” while, by contrast, empathetic bosses fostered a sense of collegiality and good will.[2]

Such findings have great relevance to anyone and any organization, including family businesses where insensitivity to family members and others, perhaps particularly by family members in positions of power, can generate ill will by rude and selfish behavior, such as by interrupting coworkers, multitasking during meetings, raising their voices, and insulting colleagues. There are, of course, countless ways to incorporate empathy in a family business, such as simply listening with focused interest and engagement, signaling concern with phrases such as “I’m sorry,” or, before meetings, taking a moment to ask the person you’ll be with what’s new.[3]

Next week on the blog we’ll be focusing on “demonstrating compassion” and “showing forgiveness”—two more proven strategies that can help lead to a positive work culture.

[1] Dacher Keltner, Don’t Let Power Corrupt You, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Oct. 2016), https://hbr.org/2016/10/dont-let-power-corrupt-you.

[2] Emma Seppala & Kim Cameron, Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Dec. 1, 2015), https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive.

[3] Dacher Keltner, Don’t Let Power Corrupt You, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Oct. 2016), https://hbr.org/2016/10/dont-let-power-corrupt-you.