La buena comunicación es una de las habilidades de supervivencia más importantes para el éxito de una empresa familiar. Desgraciadamente, a pesar de toda nuestra capacidad intelectual (o tal vez debido a ella), los seres humanos somos comunicadores imperfectos, y la comunicación imperfecta suele generar conflictos. El conflicto no es necesariamente algo malo; en él se encuentran a menudo ideas e información importantes. Las buenas habilidades de comunicación no se desarrollan evitando el conflicto, sino que ayudan a evitar los conflictos innecesarios, a no exacerbarlos y a promover el aprendizaje del conflicto sin dañar a ninguno de los miembros de la familia de la empresa. Entonces, ¿cómo se puede potenciar la buena comunicación, permitir un conflicto sano y reducir los errores de comunicación?

Catch miscommunications early. Communications easily and inevitably go awry. Spotting miscommunications early enables you to head off resentment, bruised egos and anger and paves the way for going over — instead of avoiding — the points of contention. Some clues that communication’s gone awry: unexpected emotional reactions, blank stares, lack of feedback or your own internal sense that you have just spoken into a vacuum. Keep in mind that these are merely clues, not evidence. Don’t ignore them or use them to accuse, and don’t ask the person, “Did you hear me?”; that can sound belligerent. Instead, invite the other person to participate in the dialogue by asking for feedback or for an opinion. A mea culpa also helps. “I’m not sure I was really clear,” you could say. “Sometimes I don’t clearly put my thoughts into words. Should I try that again?” Asking the other person to help you out makes the quest for clear communication collaborative.

Learn the intent-impact model. Conflict frequently escalates because people act on the erroneous assumption that they have communicated accurately. This miscommunication pattern is so common that a team of psychologist researchers who have observed scores of married couples’ discussions has even coined a name for it: the intent-impact model. When what you say (your intent) has an unexpected result (impact), communication gets sidetracked and negative emotions escalate. Often, when people haven’t responded in the way you’d hoped or expected, they are not being defiant, devious, oversensitive or stupid, but they have simply heard something other than what you had intended to say. It doesn’t matter whose “fault” the miscommunication is; the only faults lie in not noticing when it happens and in joining the escalation of negative feelings. Instead of responding to the other person’s unexpected reaction, stop; explain that the reaction surprised you; and say, “Maybe I didn’t say what I meant to say clearly enough. I didn’t intend to make you angry (or hurt you).” Don’t say, “Maybe you didn’t hear me clearly.” Once someone is angry or hurt, that statement pours gasoline onto the fire. Instead, defuse the intensity by taking the responsibility on your own shoulders. This sounds simple, but it requires practice, discipline and a strong sense of yourself.

Remember that many factors contribute to miscommunication. The simplest statements have invisible roots and cast unintended shadows. Differences in culture, age, pecking order within the family, gender, mood, listening styles and assumptions significantly affect our ability to speak or listen effectively and clearly. You may mistakenly assume, for example, that someone who is making eye contact with you has clearly heard everything you have just said. Conversely, someone who avoids eye contact may not be ignoring you but actually listening keenly. If you give some advice or direction to a younger sibling, he may be thinking more of long-ago conversations or resentments than about what you are saying. Someone who has had a bad day may have her mind on matters other than what you have to say, and you may misconstrue her lack of attention as lack of commitment. When miscommunication occurs, be sympathetic, not accusatory; it helps to remember that the greater duress people are under, the harder it is for them to communicate. That applies to you as well. You may be aggravated about something completely unrelated that happened earlier in the day and speak to someone with an unintended edge in your voice that he takes personally; then you assume he’s touchy or has a bone to pick with you.

Remember that emotions are contagious. Neuroscientists have recently discovered mirror neurons, the part of the brain that responds empathically to another’s emotion. Mirror neurons help explain why we can watch someone cry and feel sadness or why a hasty gesture from one driver escalates into road rage. Emotional contagion is a wonderful thing when people are laughing or in love, but it is not so good when someone is angry or hurt. Don’t fuel the negative contagion that may result from a miscommunication. You may have to work hard to override biology and soothe your innate urge to react resentfully to someone else’s resentment.

Good communication involves more than technique. Bernard Mayer, an expert in conflict resolution, points out that it also involves attitude, and he lists several attitudes that nurture good communication.

Genuinely care about what others are saying. You can probably sense when you are being talked at rather than talked with, and so can others. Whenever you are about to talk with someone, try to remind yourself to be curious and to not just care about getting your point across, but to also hear the other person. If you remember this, you will be more attentive, and others will be more open to listening and talking. When you think you know everything, or when you think the only way you can acquire more information is through indirect or surreptitious means, you are not only putting a serious crimp in your incoming information pipeline, but you are also squeezing off communication.

Una buena comunicación requiere energía. Tienes que trabajar en la comunicación, reuniendo y concentrando tu energía mientras te mantienes relajado. La relajación alerta es crucial para una buena comunicación. Gritar también requiere una considerable energía concentrada, pero no favorece la comunicación mutua. Sé paciente y comprensivo contigo mismo y con la otra persona.

Recuerda ser tolerante con tus propias dificultades y las de los demás para comunicarte. Una cosa es leer este artículo sobre la comunicación y hacer el voto de practicar los preceptos. Pero en el mundo real y desordenado de las emociones, los objetivos conflictivos, las agendas separadas, los dolores de cabeza, las presiones y dos o más personas, ayuda recordar que la buena comunicación es un proceso, no una prueba. Como proceso, no implica la perfección, sino el reconocimiento de los errores y el hacer lo posible por retomar el rumbo. Al igual que los mejores padres, los mejores comunicadores no son los que nunca se equivocan, sino los que se dan cuenta de sus errores, los reconocen y toman medidas correctivas. Los mejores comunicadores también ayudan a los demás a comunicarse mejor, no mediante la coacción, sino a través de un modelo de apoyo.

La comunicación es una de las mayores fuentes de dificultad y esperanza a la hora de afrontar conflictos graves. Una buena comunicación hace algo más que mantener a las familias y a las empresas en funcionamiento; es la esencia de nuestras relaciones familiares y empresariales. La forma en que nos comunicamos con los demás y entre nosotros mismos determina en última instancia la calidad de nuestras vidas.