Family business truths… second – it's all about communication

As my family and I continue along this amazing week, amazing journey that is the INSEAD Family Business Challenge, I am simultaneously more stimulated and more emotionally spent than I have been in quite some time. While yesterday’s focus was learning about birth order and what predispositions, what context, our birth order in the family gives each of us, today was about coaching and active listening. Here is what I learned today – and it sounds easy, but as our group breakouts and exercises indicated, it is much hard than it seems…

If the below seems unclear, head to the nearest bar and observe the bartenders. Indeed, the best coaches are bartenders (more than PhDs in psychology!), because they listen, since that’s how they get big tips. They usually don’t care about the specifics of the stories, they don’t know your obnoxious boss or your arrogant brother – so they don’t judge, instead they just nod and ask clarifying questions… 

What is coaching?

– The essence of good coaching is good listening

– Coaching is helping other people hear themselves.

– Coaching is helping someone develop / improve self-awareness.

What is coaching not?

– Coaching is not advice!

– Telling others how to do something better

– Sharing your knowledge and skills

3 coaching techniques

1. Build trust

– Show respect for the coacher’s feelings and thinking

– Help coachee explore new behaviors / thinking

– Create positive expectations and a sense of hope

– Commit to trust as the basis for the relationship

2. Use reflective questions and clean language

– Use the words of the person speaking when you answer back to them

– Do not judge or evaluate or approve any emotionally meaning statement

– Use non-violent communication: focus on facts; how it makes you feel (talk about yourself); express your needs to the other person without expecting anything because otherwise it becomes a demand

– Use clean language = neutral words such as:

“tell me more”

“how did that make you feel”

– Such language gives people space

– Realize that feelings are “facts” to the other person

3. Practice deeper listening

The stages of listening are as follows:

– Multitasking listening: not effective in terms of quality, does not help creativity, and destroys deep relationships

– Conversational listening: casual listening, appearing interested

– Confrontational listening: engaged but thinking of rebuttals and of your point of view

– Active listening: very focused on what the other person is saying

– Deep listening: outside of yourself, aware of both content and meaning, seeing and hearing with your 3rd ear

As we go through various exercises, we quickly realize that the trouble with communication is both assumptions, and interpretation.

We make assumptions about what others want; what they feel; what motivates them – we project ourselves on to them. And 99% of the time, we are wrong. Did we bother asking? No…

We also assume that the message we wanted to communicate was received accurately. Again, more often than not, that is not the case. There is what you want to say; then there is the way you express it (and sometimes you can’t express what you mean despite your best intentions); and then there is the way the person receives it – this is why it is so important to check assumptions and make sure that what you understood is what the person actually meant. In active listening, this involves rephrasing or asking clarifying/reflective questions. Just to make sure we understand what is being said… (or emailed, or texted…).