The obstacles to effective communication are legion.

First of all, however much we might like to think that we and those closest to us ought to have the same experience of shared events, modern neuroscience tells us that is, to all intents and purposes, impossible.  That alone would pose a challenge, but the mismatch between our expectation of shared experience and the reality of it often turns out to be confusing, if not downright painful.

Then there are both temperamental and cultural differences in the ways we each take in information, communicate and deal with conflict.

On top of which, when we get stressed our fight/flight/freeze reflex tends to kick in, our (so-called) higher brain functions go off line, and we become reactive and defensive just when we need to be open and receptive.

I work with families, and those who work with them, who want to give themselves the best possible chance of really making themselves understood, and of understanding where others are coming from, so that they can make the best decisions they can about the things that concern them all.

Case Study

Sue and Jane started their management consultancy in the late 90s.  They had their ups and downs (the downs being put down to "normal start up stuff") but thought their first ten years had been pretty successful.  The truth was that they had built two entirely separate businesses under one roof and, when the hard times came, they didn't seem able to agree anything.

They couldn't have been more different (complementary as they had told themselves at the outset).  Sue's side of the business paid the bills.  She focussed on smaller projects and got 7 out of 10 jobs she pitched for.  Jane paid the bonuses.  She went after big ticket work, only landing 1 or 2 out of 10 pitches but, when she did, everyone lived well for a while.  Each of them had built teams of like-thinking people, and there was little interaction between "Team Jane" and "Team Sue".

Sue  had a vision of what the business should be like.  She was very team-oriented and, provided they all made "a decent living", was more interested in maintaining relationships within the team and with potential customers than making a few more pounds.  Her conversation was pure theatre, constant story-telling accompanied by sometimes wild gesticulation and facial expressions. She talked a lot about her feelings too.

Jane could hardly have been more different.  Compact.  Analytical.  Bottom line driven.  Competitive.  A lady of few words - and fewer gestures.

The first time I saw them together would have been funny - on a TV sketch show.  In real life, it was tragic.  Jane may as well have been speaking Serbo-Croat to Sue's Cantonese!  And the more they each failed to feel heard, the more they got frustrated, and then angry - and of course even less able to communicate.

Working with each of them separately, I was able to get each of them to see that we don't all do things the same way and that, to get where you need to be, you need either to learn the other person's language, or to use an interpreter.  Of course, the explanation to each was different: Sue's expansive, narrative with lots of kinaesthetic references; Jane's short, crisp and analytical.

When the three of us got back together, they each made an effort to put things in ways they thought the other might understand, and looked to me to translate where necessary but, most of all, they were accepting of the way the other did things. Without the frustration, the temperature stayed much lower and they able to focus on problems in the business and to agree what help they needed if they were going to start to address them.