February 7, 2018: Introducing the Practice of Appreciative Inquiry

By Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. Vossler, Eliza P. Friedman, and Mary Owen

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Without robust communication—and the right kind of communication—relationships can quickly deteriorate. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies informed by science that can help mitigate this issue, including:

  • Memorializing agreements in writing
  • Sensitizing individuals to the importance of non-verbal communication

For more on these strategies, we invite you to visit our previous posts.

Another interesting field in which science is helping to inform how people and organizations can improve the quality of their lives, their relationships and their organizations is based on a process known as Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

AI is premised on the notion that employees are more energized and engaged when asked questions about the positive aspects of their work.[1]

For example, instead of asking “what are we doing wrong?” a manager might ask, “What skill sets do we have in our team that can help with this task?”

A negative question like “What should we avoid this year?” can be phrased positively as, “What do we want to achieve this year?”

AI has been applied in many contexts, including within the field of conflict resolution.[2]

Let’s imagine a client who is unhappy with a deliverable, pointing to a specific element that is lacking in some sense. Instead of dwelling on the negative (e.g. “this work was done poorly”) a manager could turn the situation into a development opportunity (e.g. “what can we improve here to better serve our client?)

Families in business can also benefit from its use in designing constructive agendas and engaging in appreciative based conversations.

We’ll continue on the theme of constructive communication next week, and why positive comments should outweigh the negatives.


[1] See generally David L. Cooperrider & Diana Whitney, Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change (2005).

[2] See, e.g., Arthur Pearlstein, Pursuit of Happiness and Resolution of Conflict: An Agenda for the Future of ADR, 12 Pepp. Disp. Resol. L.J. 215 (2012).

January 30, 2018: The Importance of Nonverbal Communication

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

As we continue on the topic of constructive communication strategies—and the science behind them—it’s important to note that the term “communication” isn’t limited to written or oral communication.

In fact, things like posture, tone of voice and focused attention are all ways in which we demonstrate active listening and understanding.

These are types of “nonverbal communication” —and smiling is another example of it.

One of the more intriguing areas of scientific research that has the potential to help families in business (and many others) concerns smiling: why we smile, how we do it, and its importance.

Paul Ekman, one of the world’s leading authorities on facial expressions, has observed that a smile is also one of the most basic human expressions, having the same meaning in different societies.[1] Interestingly, a study at Penn State University found that smiling not only makes us appear more likable, but more competent as well.[2]

One oft cited example of a successful company that focuses on training employees to be pleasant and welcoming to its customers is Starbucks. This commitment to its customers’ experience has been credited as an important factor in the company’s success.[3] One “best practice” for families in business together would be to train employees to be pleasant and welcoming to each other, their co-workers, their employees, and customers.

Join us again next week, when we’ll be taking a closer look at Appreciative Inquiry—another science-backed method proven to help foster constructive communication.

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[1] See Paul Ekman, Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life 3–4 (2007); see also Mark G. Frank & Paul Ekman, Physiologic Effects of the Smile, Directions Psychiatry, Dec. 1996, at 1.

[2] Vivian Giang, How Smiling Changes Your Brain, Fast Company (Jan. 28, 2015), https://www.fastcompany.com/3041438/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/how-smiling-changes-your-brain.

[3] See Ken West, The Customer Experience: Spotlight on Starbucks, Nat’l Bus. Res. Inst., https://www.nbrii.com/blog/the-customer-experience-starbucks (last visited Mar. 20, 2017).

December 6, 2017: Fostering Constructive Communication, Part Two

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

Several weeks ago, we began discussing the value of constructive communication—whether in business or in everyday life.

We also had a think about why most people struggle with it.

You may recall that, according to studies at the University of Minnesota, the average person remembers only about half of what he or she has heard—no matter how carefully he thought he was listening.[1]

Over the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at some ideas informed by science to help families more constructively communicate with one another.

The first strategy is memorializing agreements in writing.

Research at places like Florida State University and Michigan State University revealed that an average listener will remember only about twenty-five percent of what was said only two months after listening to a talk—and that we are likely to forget from one-half to one-third of what we heard within eight hours. Putting agreements in writing will help reduce misunderstandings that result from innocent, but faulty, recollections.[2]

Another idea is to sensitize individuals to the importance of non-verbal communication.

Non-verbal communication can occur in a variety of ways, including through gestures, body language (posture), tone of voice, facial expression, eye contact, etc. It can also occur through choices in fashion, hairstyles, and perfume or other scents. We also communicate non-verbally through space (for example, consider the location and decor of an office), time (consider, for example, whether one is punctual or consistently late), symbols (for example, using emojis), and sounds (such as a choice of ringtone on a phone).

Interestingly, we can even communicate silently, the meaning of which can be positive or negative, depending on the context, to reflect, alternatively and as only one example, either rapt attention or lack of interest. Sometimes we communicate non-verbally by multi-tasking, such as, for example, when listening to someone but, at the same time, checking emails. It can be both intentional and deliberate, or unintentional and unconscious. It can reflect emotions like happiness, unhappiness, interest, curiosity, annoyance, empathy, etc. Perhaps the most famous work on the importance of non-verbal communication was done by Albert Mehrabian.[3]

While the subject is of continuing debate, Mehrabian is well-known for proposing that words account for only about seven percent of how we process a message; the balance is by considering tone of voice (accounting for about thirty-eight percent of how we process a message), and body language (accounting for about fifty-five percent of how a message is processed).[4]

Families in business together can use this information to help insure that their non-verbal communications are thoughtful and constructive; doing so will help enhance interpersonal relationships.

Our propensity to misunderstand each other continues to accelerate due to the increased use of technology to communicate as it is difficult to express emotions and feeling in emails, texts and tweets that only require a form of written text—at a time when researchers have established the importance of non-verbal communication—for effective communication.

Join us back here next week as we continue our discussion of effective communication strategies—including how a simple smile can make a big impact in business.

[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.

[3] See generally, e.g., Albert Mehrabian, Silent Messages (1971); Albert Mehrabian, “Silent Messages”: A Wealth of Information About Nonverbal Communication (Body Language), http://www.kaaj.com/psych/smorder.html (last visited Mar. 20, 2017).

[4] Mehrabian, supra.

November 20th, 2017: Family Business Advice from an Heiress (times 2): My Interview with Mitzi Perdue

By Scott E. Friedman

I recently had the privilege – and pleasure – to speak with Mitzi Perdue, the author of a new book titled How to Make Your Family Business Last. Anyone interested in this subject would be wise to listen to Mitzi. She comes from 2 very well-known family businesses – her father help start the Sheraton Hotel chain and her late husband, Frank Perdue, for many years led Perdue Farms. These two family businesses have been together for a combined total of 224 years. Beyond that Mitzi is the founder of CERES Farms, a family owned agricultural real estate investment company that, today, sells wine grapes to well-known wineries, including Mondavi, Bogle and Folie a Deux.

Mitzi shared with me how she came to recognize that so many participants in family businesses were unhappy – mostly because of arguments over petty matters. That pain (and appreciating the expense of family litigation that too often accompanied those arguments) left her wanting to share important insights and lessons that had benefitted her and her families.

Over the years, Mitzi has been a voracious reader on family business challenges, including not only books on business, governance and organizational dynamics but psychology and psychiatry as well. Through her lifetime of experience and continuous learning, Mitzi realized she had enough information to contribute to the field. And her book – full of stories, advice and practical templates, does just that, offering great advice to nurture or create a high functioning family business.

Consistent with the message on this blog (and our family business advisory company, NextGen Advisors, LLC), Mitzi believes that “culture” is the biggest tool available for keeping a family together. Recognizing that a positive culture doesn’t just happen, her book offers numerous great suggestions to nurture (or create) a positive culture.

Some of Mitzi’s suggestions include spending time together, creating a legacy of family philanthropy, embracing new family members, giving awards to recognize desired behaviors, creating an ethical will, considering engaging “collaborative lawyers” to help resolve disputes that can’t be resolved by family members alone, and thoughtfully consider the “pros and cons” of staying in a family business.

I encourage you to read Mitzi’s book – and check out www.Mitziperdue.com to learn more!

As a courtesy to readers of this blog, Mitzi is making an autographed copy of her book, How to Make Your Family Business Last, that normally retails for $27.95, available for only $10. You can order your copy at this secret web page: www.mitziperdue.com/discount.

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.