“Mum and Dad are fighting again.”
Embarrassingly, this was not the passing comment of a child. It was my employee, making comment to another employee on the state of my relationship with Rob, my business partner and husband. Yikes!
Talk about a wake-up call!
Rob and I are both very opinionated, passionate about life and business, and strong willed, but that was no excuse for the communication breakdowns that were obviously happening right in front of our team!
It goes without saying that open and honest communication is critical in all relationships. But HOW you communicate – your tone, your gestures, your facial expressions – are just, if not more, important as the words you use. And for those of us married to our business partner, it’s even more critical that we’re actively using effective communication techniques, because inevitably our personal patterns of communication and behaviour as a couple will come through in our working relationship. That’s the reason we need to master it.
Every individual – including siblings – grows up in their own unique family situation and environments. When we form a relationship with someone, we each bring our own perspectives, conditioning, methods of communication, patterns of behaviours and response mechanisms in to the relationship. Consequently, how we communicate with our partner is coloured by our own view of the world – which is likely to differ from how our partner views the world.
To illustrate this concept, I’m going to give a fictional example of John & Mary Doe. Mary grew up in a household where no-one swore except for her father when he was very angry. Growing up in this environment, Mary has an (unconscious) association between swearing and anger. So, when she hears someone swear, she immediately feels anxious and determines that person must be furious.
John, on the other hand, grew up in a family where swearing was more common. He’d likely hear it if someone stubbed their toe, accidentally picked up a hot pan or were running late for the office. In that environment, John learns that swearing is something you do to express a momentary pain, or minor inconvenience.
So what happens in this relationship, when, in an argument over something basically inconsequential, John swears? Well, maybe Mary immediately thinks he’s overreacting and so she takes a defensive position. Or, maybe Mary feels the sharp stab of anxiety and completely withdraws from the argument, leaving John feeling frustrated that they can “never” have a constructive conversation.
Remember, communication not only consists of words but facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and other cues. In human evolution, we had gestures before we had language. That means that the non-verbal cues we use – including those rolled eyes, heavy sighs, and tapping fingers – communicate far louder than any words that we say.
In business and relationships there are many issues that need to be discussed and decisions made. How that is done, how we communicate in the situations we face, is a major impactor on the culture and success of the business and our relationships.
It is important to remind ourselves in any conflict situation that those two different interpretations, reactions, responses and perspectives are right from each individual’s perspective.
More often than not, one of the greatest enemies of open and honest communication is making the other person wrong.
Maybe you’ve heard the formula for communication theory? Person A “encodes” their message from their own perspective, having very clear in their mind the message that they want to put across. Person B then “decodes” the message from their perspective.
Inevitably, if person A does not ensure that person B receives the message that they intended, then unsurprisingly, person B goes and does something different to what person A wanted! This is typically how most arguments start.
So it’s quite possible that your partner is not being deliberately hard to get along with, it’s just how they’ve interpreted what you’ve said to them!
It would blow our minds if we stopped to calculate how much energy, time and money we waste simply because we just assumed the other person knew what we meant.
Owning a business can be very stressful and in our times of stress it is easy to take out that stress on the person we love the most.
A few years ago, one of my mentors helped me to put this in perspective too – she reminded me to be grateful that Rob was “taking out” his stress on me. It meant that he loved me enough, felt safe enough to express his deepest feelings in those situations with me (much like a child does with their mother). If he didn’t love me or feel safe enough, he wouldn’t do that. This doesn’t excuse the behaviour, but it did help me to respond from a more generous and constructive place.
One of the things that I have learned from working with Rob is that if there is a decision to be made that is really important to me and Rob does not agree with my perspective it generally means one of two things:
(a) I have not prepared my case well enough.. or
(b) there are things that he can see from his perspective that I have not considered.
We have reached resolution and alignment on so many situations in business because we are consistently been reminded, that whilst individually we are good, together we are great!
Our different perspectives are one of the greatest gifts that we have EVER been given.
So, there you have it. For the success of not only our businesses, but also our marriages, it is incumbent upon us as the owners of our businesses to understand and practice open and honest communication – both at home and in our workplaces. Mastering the art of communication is the very reason our business (and marriage) has thrived over the last 16+ years.
If you’d like to know more about how to bring these perspectives into your business and marriage, you can find out more about our Married in Business program here.
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