Family business truths… third – we all need a code of conduct

It is Friday evening and I can’t turn off my brain. After a week at the Insead Family Business Challenge, I feel like I have a sore mind – and a renewed understanding about the importance of communication. We all know about active listening. Respect. Not interrupting each other. Funny how this can be so hard… We were encouraged to develop a code of conduct for our family meetings. In actuality, this code of conduct goes beyond family meetings. It is for all meetings. Indeed, it is for life in general!

Code of conduct

– Show up and be punctual

– Be present

– Show respect to all meeting attendees (no speaking behind other’s back, no private side conversations, every idea contributes to the debate, control emotions, no screaming, no multi-tasking i.e. cell phone or email during the meeting)

– Practice active listening

– Have an open mind

– Show love

– Be positive

– Have goals

– Celebrate successes

– Maintain confidentiality

– Do your homework (read the prep materials)

– Do not fall asleep

Punishment for breaking the code

– Offer a prompt and sincere apology

– Dance in front of everyone for two minutes

Beyond this code of conduct, we learned about tools to help us live it. My favorite, the teddy bear. Have a teddy bear during each meeting. Whoever holds the teddy bead gets to speak without being interrupted until he or she decides to give it to someone else. Might seem silly – but there is Harvard research behind this theory. And if that does not convince you, the below image should!

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…).

Family business truths… first – birth order

I am writing from a blah hotel room in an otherwise amazing place, INSEAD, in Fontainbleau, about an hour from Paris. I am here because my sister Cyrille had the inspiration to sign up for a weeklong family business seminar back in March – the INSEAD Family Business Challenge. She kindly invited my sisters and I to attend, invitation which I had to admit we at first politely rebuffed. But that was back in March. My dad loved the idea, and little by little the rest of us were rallied to the cause. I am here wtih two of my three sisters (Roxane is in medical school and could not miss class), my father, and my (new) brother-in-law Guillaume, who celebrated is one-month wedding anniversary yesterday, away from his bride Roxane.
The amount of information, content, and stimulation that we have all received (we are about 70ish participants, representing 12 families, attending this program that started in 2000) is so intense that this morning the only thing my sisters and I talked about were the most vivid dreams we had last night. We agreed our brains were sore.
This afternoon, the program centered on genograms, and understanding family patterns and birth orders. Here is what we learned (all facts supported by various studies and presented today by our two professors):
Every family member grows up in a different family. This is due to:
– Changing family demographics
– Evolutions in parents’ parenting style, careers, and relationships
– Family size and expanding or contracting
– Life events
– Larger social, political, or economic contexts
– There is apparently truth to the science of birth orders…
First borns: 
– The oldest children have all of the uncertainties of parents
– At some point each first born is unique
– First borns benefit from the rules of primogeniture and sunk costs and are:
– Assertive, dominant, responsible
– Organized, structured, perfectionists
– First borns have higher IQs because of their parents’ full attention in their early years and thus are:
– Ambitious, achievement-oriented
– Drawn to graduate degrees because they want their parents’ recognition (drawn to professions such as law, accounting, and science)
– The first-born is photographed more often and more naked than a Hollywood starlet
– The first-born is the child with whom you hope not to make the same mistakes your parents did, though, of course, you inevitable willOnly
Children:
– Are self-sufficient but not independent
– Are not good at sharing toys
– Like adult interaction and attention
– Are the first and the latter born at the same timeMiddle born children: 
– Struggle to be needed
– Are independent, mysterious, difficult to understand
– Are peace-makers, mediators, negotiators
– Are empathetic
– Have richer external relationships
– Are drawn to professions such as management, counseling, mediationLatter born children (the youngest):
– Get by with their personalities
– Are drawn to professions such as sales, advertising, entertainment
– Tend to be entrepreneurs
– Are wilder, more care-free, easy-going, absent-minded
– Are creative, innovative, funny “class clowns”
– Are risk-takers because of a de-identification from older siblings (they only receive 50% of the reward for equaling an older sibling)

Beyond birth order, we discussed the importance of sibling relationships – in all families, but as being particularly important to business families. Siblings are:
– The longest-lasting relationships you have in your life
– Sometimes considered a second-class relationship – because we have two parents, one spouse, and usually many siblings – but this is not the case!
– Essential because our early real time learning about interpersonal relationships and issues such as love, secrets, conflicts, honesty, compromise, avoidance all get learned with and from siblings first

Apparently, siblings fight from a very young age. Consider this:
– Siblings under 6 experience 9.5 fights per hour
– 95% of young children fight about stuff (stuff, toys, space, clothing, attention)
– Even in young children, fights are about control
And guess what older siblings fight about? Control…
And with that, class ended, and we went into our family meetings to discuss out family values and whether or not we alll fit the sibling order genotype. We worked, we laughed, we opened up to each other, and then we went to dinner and laughed some more. Mostly, we laughed about how true this all is…