“We’ll start succession planning soon”.

So Mom and Dad think “soon” is in a couple of years. The children think “soon” is next month. Without anything further being said the stage has been set for conflict, misunderstanding and loss of trust.

In this case, without context, each participant to the conversation will put their own interpretation on the word and assume that all of the others have the same interpretation.

If a culture of communication is going to flourish in a family business, words and conversations must be put into context.

We all process words differently and those differences may be determined by age, life experiences and gender.

The word “should” is also a word that has different interpretations. To some it will mean “let’s do it”. For others, it means “let’s explore the possibility of doing it”. There’s a big difference. Without context the “let’s do it” people may seem controlling and the “let’s explore” people may be seen not to be able to make a decision.

It’s also everyday words that can be interpreted differently. Three of us had an interesting conversation on the definition of “homemade” with three different results. The differences arose from age, life experiences and gender. This exercise certainly was not going significantly impact any of us, but it did serve to highlight how even words we think are easy to define can, in fact, be subject to many different interpretations.

So, the moral of the story is to always try to provide context in communication.

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