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Case Study: Communication Breakdown

communication breakdownBackground: John was MD of a £6 million turnover family business in the manufacturing sector. His father had originally founded the business which the three children eventually joined. However, there was a general lack of structure in the company which also manifested as poor communication, not only between John and his father, but with the other children too.

Issue: This was creating a number of problems that were hindering the smooth management of the business and rather than being focused on growth, energy was being diverted into family feuding.

“We started having a lot of fall-out in the family through lack of communication,” John said. He was not getting along with his brother, who would side with their father, while their father was digging in his heals and their sister found herself in the middle of it all trying to play peace-maker. Clearly, something had to be done or the future of the business would be at risk.

John was advised by his Academy Chairman in their one-to-one coaching session that this would be a good issue to raise with the rest of the group in one of the afternoon sessions which are reserved to deal with these sorts of dilemmas.

“What was powerful for me at the time is that by sitting in a group of people you trust and respect and talking through what is not working, you can really take a helicopter view and get to the bottom of exactly what IT is,” John observed.

“As other group members probe and ask additional questions you get to a point of crystallisation, of true clarity. I also listened to my recording of the session that same night which really amplified things. It was supportive and helpful to hear from others in the group who had experienced similar issues in their own businesses.”

Resolution: “It really would not have worked if I had confronted my dad the next day about our communication problems.  So I took a slow-burn approach where I found that by changing and modifying my own behaviour, he in turn started reacting differently to me.

“This would never have happened if I had not been helped to see the issues from the perspective of my father. He simply wanted to be respected by the family and to not feel excluded. I was also able to understand how his interpersonal skills had been impacted by the fact that he had never been praised as a child, and was told he would be a failure in life.”

“As he and I started to communicate more effectively, my connection with other family members improved too. And when he stopped coming in to work, my relationship with my brother was transformed. “

“The eventual outcome (quite unintended at the time) is that my dad finally realised that it was time to pass the helm to the next generation. He gave us a vote of confidence by transferring over all his shares.”

“We now understood our dynamics as a family and we work together much more efficiently, something that is reflected in an increase of 30% in our turnover. Most importantly, we are a family that love each other very much and we’ve succeeded in balancing our personal relationships with the requirements of the business.”


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