Communication within a family business: Giving all family members a voice

In every family there are those who speak up and those who stay silent, those who fight to have their needs heard and those who remain in the background. These are often the same dynamics that exist in all social groupings, including a company.

One can only imagine the range of communication styles within a family business. While it may feel just as frightening for the talkers to stop and listen as it does for the quiet ones to speak up, the value that comes from everyone having a voice far outweighs the risks.

Consider priorities

If you are part of a successful family business, you already know that of these two words, family takes priority over business. Yet sometimes it is difficult for family members to change their patterns of communicating with one another, even when they are not running a business together.

What I’ve observed over the years, both in my own family system and in the client families I work with, is that when people feel heard, deeper connection, communication, and change are possible. Now, of course, some people don’t want deep connection within their family business, or authentic communication, and this article is not for those people.

If you want to know the full truth of how your family and your family business is functioning, ask the quiet ones. Ask the ones who don’t offer opinions, who don’t speak up, who don’t share their thoughts on what moves to make. Just because they are not fighting to have their voices heard doesn’t mean they don’t have suggestions or ideas for how to make the family business more successful.

There is no one today who does not inwardly crave to be seen and heard for who they really are. The reason that many families don’t open dialogues in a more direct, targeted way with the entire range of family personalities is that they are afraid of what they will find out about themselves and each other. The true family culture will be revealed, and what if it isn’t as compassionate or cooperative as everyone assumed?

From what I have seen, when everyone is invited to speak up in a way that feels safe and honoring of who they are, beautiful, often magical, changes happen. I’ve seen longstanding rifts heal. I’ve seen love and care expressed in new and surprising ways. I’ve seen perceptions shift and traumas dissolve.

Openness is important

When families who work in a business together or who co-manage large common assets create this space for an open dialogue, generational patterns can shift and be rewoven.
There are many ways to help family members find, develop and share their voices. There is no one-size-fits all solution. Some business families would benefit from a skilled therapist; others need a coach/facilitator, and still others might find that an adviser or friend is a good outside ear to get the ball rolling.
My filmmaking process with clients has shown me that it is another way to invest in expressing all the perspectives and experiences within a family and family business. Sometimes I feel like the champion for the quiet family members because it is often in my interviews with them when they finally get the chance to be heard and to express their feelings, observations, and ideas for the first time.

No matter how you choose to open up this deeper communication within your family system, know that by fortifying your connections with each other, you are fortifying your business.

Arielle Nobile is the CEO and chief creative officer of Legacy Connections Films, which she founded 10 years ago. LCF produces private documentary films, legacy films that serve as a mirror for clients to reflect on how far they have come and to share a vision for where they are going. Visit legacyconnectionsfilms.com.