ILMA Compoundings - October 2020 - 39

the ability for the family to validate
each other, the power dynamic in the
family and the level of trust among
those in the meeting.
Validation in communication. In
working with family enterprise clients,
we often emphasize the importance of
validation when communicating with
a family member. Validation, or the
feeling of being heard and understood,
can come in physical (nodding of the
head and eye contact) as well as verbal
(repeating back what you heard) forms.
Although you might not agree with
each other, this validation can create
a positive back-and-forth dialogue
that allows the conversation to move
forward versus being shut down and
not progressing. Some phrases you
might use to validate others include:
*	"If I'm right, what I hear you
saying is ..."
*	"As I understand it, you're feeling/
thinking ..."
*	"You must have been surprised
when ..."
*	"So, if I could summarize, it seems
to you that ..."
Remember that if the technology
doesn't allow folks to talk simultaneously, verbal validation can be a bit
more awkward. During in-person
meetings, we are more skilled at having
multiple people communicate at the
same time, both verbally and nonverbally. Technology, as sophisticated as
it may be, simply does not provide for
that level of flexibility. Ethan Becker,
CEO of The Speech Improvement
Co. and author of Mastering Communication at Work, said that "one
of the biggest challenges with video
conferencing is that the focus is on one
person, which is the equivalent to having a board meeting in pitch black with
a spotlight on the person speaking."
Power dynamic. The power dynamic
in a family business is often obvious

and longstanding, particularly when
in person. At times, this dynamic
can help lead the family and business
down a path of success and growth,
while at other times, it can represent
tremendous challenges and drastically
impact the ability of the family to
communicate well. When thinking
about the communication medium
in which to have a family business
meeting, we encourage you to take
this power dynamic into consideration.
For in-person meetings, this dynamic
often plays out in where people sit
around the table. For rectangular
boardroom-type tables, the leader of
the family or business often sits at the
head of the table to assert his or her
position with the group. At times he or
she can also dominate the meeting by
controlling the content of the meeting,
who speaks and when people speak.
This power play in video meetings
becomes more difficult because
everybody is "equal" with how they
are seen on the computer screen. The
person in perceived power might not
be hosting or controlling the meeting
and thus is giving way to others to run
the meeting and control the agenda.
Finally, video meetings from
more intimate home settings tend
to humanize us all. Members of the
senior generation are sometimes
challenged in getting connected,
taking away some of their inherent
standing. Interruptions from pets and
kids can remove tension and level the
playing field in a way that would never
happen in a conference room.
Level of trust. When trust is high
and the concern over ulterior motives
is low or nonexistent, the medium
becomes much less of an issue. High
trust lessens the issue of the power
dynamic and often leads to better
validation and communication. However, when trust is low and conflict is
prevalent, the benefit of the doubt is
often not given, and we can sometimes

question others' motives. This is when
choosing a communication medium
becomes very important.
In high-conflict and power-imbalance situations that are often found
with families in business together,
video can offer some significant
advantages. Having each attendee
join on his or her own screen levels
the playing field in ways that are
impossible when stakeholders are
all around the same table. We have
seen members of the next generation
step up to responsibilities and more
conflict-averse individuals speak their
minds when on video in ways we haven't seen when the same group has met
in person. Deep-seated and long-held
disagreements are sometimes diffused
and depersonalized by not physically
being in the same room. This sometimes provides the space to discuss
very difficult issues.
STEPS FOR FAIR PROCESS
Here are the steps to design a fair
decision-making process from the
ground floor.
1.	Make sure there are no surprises.
2.	Hold discussion with sincere care.
3.	Ensure no conflicts of interest.
4.	Follow up.

Dartt and Karofsky are principal consultants
at The Family Business Consulting Group.

This is an excerpt from an article
titled "Aligning the Family Enterprise: Should We Meet In Person
or Virtually?" that was originally
published on The Family Business Consulting Group's website.
It has been edited according to
Compoundings style.

39



ILMA Compoundings - October 2020

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