Should the Next Generation Be the One to Name the Elephant in the Room?

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Last Friday, I attended a workshop by Dennis Jaffe called “Facing and Resolving Issues That Prevent Your Family Business from Moving Forward.” It was held by The Institute for Family Business, part of the University of the Pacific, and all the attendees were family business members.

I’ve read several of Dennis Jaffe’s books, and I love his practical, easy-to-understand, you-can-do-it style. Of course, he ran his workshop the same way, and we all had to face our particular “elephant in the room”(which is an obvious problem that no one wants to discuss) and how we go about having such difficult conversations.

Incidentally, I shared my table with a couple of Next Generation members and our respective elephants seemed to be of the same breed. Their elephants’ most distinctive characteristics were that they had hearing problems, lived long lives, and went by the name of “Succession.”

Jaffe made a very good point at the beginning of his presentation: If you have a problem with someone, you cannot simply expect the other person to take the initiative to solve it. The other person may not see any problem . . . well, apart from some weird behavior that most of us tent to display when we feel frustrated.

So, who is responsible for becoming a change leader and making things happen? Probably you, the one being squeezed into the wall by the elephant!

I have already pushed away my elephant a few times using all the right steps. I described what the situation was in a respectful, calm manner; explained how it made me feel; and stated what I would like to see happen in the future. But, after Jaffe’s presentation, I realized that there are a few things that I could do better next time:

1-     Let the other person know in advance that I need to discuss “X” issue with him and set up an agenda for the meeting. This way, the important conversations won’t get lost between phone calls and things will not get tense because the other person was not prepared for it or cannot focus because there is something else on his or her mind.

2-     Instead of giving up when denial and resistance keeps coming up, I’ll use coaching skills to break through. I’ll rephrase what the other person said to make sure that is what he meant. Bottom-line: keep him on track; acknowledge his positive traits, points, and actions; manage myself; and block assumptions from popping into my mind.

3-     Finally, I have to set up realistic expectations. Change is a process that takes time to effect. One conversation may not do much, but it is a start. Next time I won’t feel disappointed if there is no immediately obvious change. Instead, I’ll pat myself on the back for trying and taking one more step to make things happen.

These elephants are imposing and a bit scary, but if you keep ignoring them, they will keep taking more and more of your space until you are so pressed against the wall that it will be impossible to move any more.

So, let’s take action and send those elephants back where they belong: the jungle!

Written by Carmen Lence of NextGen Consulting & Coaching www.nextgenfamilybusiness.com