As a therapist, my most frequent request is to “Improve Communication.” The family will express they, “don’t communicate well,” however, what I find is that they do communicate well; they just don’t use appropriate communication techniques.

The following are common scenarios:

– I think you are mad at me, so I withdraw and quit talking to you, the message is clear- I am going to avoid you.

– I am angry with you and tell other coworkers and you find out; you confront me in anger or retaliate by saying things to others about me, the communication is clear- I will talk about you to others or confront you directly in anger.

The examples above show the negative outcomes that result when improper communication techniques are being used. These techniques do not simply need improvement, but an overhaul! If you can relate to the examples above, and realize the need for a communication overhaul, pay attention to the following steps.

  1. Examine how you feel about your relatives or co-workers.
  2. Determine what you want to say to them. Are you afraid to do so because of the damage it may cause to the relationship?
  3. Evaluate how you communicate: Do you yell, avoid confrontation, or tend to want to please everyone?
  4. Determine how long the problems have been going on. Usually the longer they have been part of the family dynamic, the harder they are to change. This is because the family has learned to create more ways of adapting to problems rather than addressing them.
  5. Create covenants that allow family members to vent to a third party, with the eventual goals of being able to share your feelings with others in the family.

The Covenant development process provides a forum for each family member to sort through the complexities of family and business relationships with a third party and can be pivotal in teaching family members how to speak to one another in constructive rather than destructive ways. Covenants help us uncover our feelings and how to deal with them because sometimes we may not be able to identify how we feel. This dynamic is prevalent in families where there is a strong, demanding leader.

The ultimate goal for “improving communication” is to have family members aware of their feelings towards each other, and being able to share them in ways that reflect respect for each other. With a “Communication Overhaul,” eventually, family and/or business issues can be addressed through positive and constructive methods. Although the new communication methods may be different and uncomfortable, the outcome will be rewarding.


Russell Phillips, M.A., M.B.A., has been associated with The Rawls Group since 1995. His primary focus is working with business owners, key managers, and family members on the varying relational issues that impact the business legacy and their pivotal relationships. If you have questions about this article, email Russ at

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