Improving Communication Improves Planning

THE COUNSELOR

Volume 9 • Issue 6 • June 2019

The Counselor is a monthly newsletter of Hallock & Hallock dedicated to providing useful information on estate planning, business succession planning and charitable planning issues. This month’s issue is devoted to the subject of communication. If you are interested in learning more about the ideas and processes discussed in this newsletter, please contact us for an initial consultation.


“Come now, and let us reason together . . . .” – Isaiah 1:18

Whether it is estate planning, family business succession planning, or the administration of an estate, good communication skills are important and can make a big difference.

  1. When a family business, such as a family farm, is in transition, it is important that the participants meet regularly to discuss the issues and negotiate solutions.

  2. When spouses and families are trying to make estate planning decisions, it is important to meet and discuss concerns so that important decisions can be made.

  3. When making funeral arrangements or writing obituaries, good communication skills can allow the family to better navigate an emotional time.

  4. When dividing up assets following a parent’s death, the children will need to communicate in order to move through differences of opinion that may exist.

Great power comes to families who are willing to take the time to learn and put in action good communication skills. However, it is not easy. In the classic book on negotiations, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury dedicate a section to the importance of communication.  According to Fisher and Ury, “[c]ommunication is never an easy thing, even between people who have an enormous background of shared value and experience. . . . Whatever you say, you should expect that the other side will almost always hear something different.”

The Three Big Problems

Fisher and Ury explain that there are always “three big problems” when communicating with others:

  1. “[You] may not be talking to each other, or at least not in such a way as to be understood.”

  2. Even if you are talking in a way to be understood, “they may not be hearing you.”

  3. Finally, “[w]hat one says, the other may misinterpret.”

What to Do?

Fisher and Ury then go on to provide some suggestions to addressing and avoiding these three big problems.  Here are some of their thoughts:

“Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said.”

  • “Listening enables you to understand their perceptions, feel their emotions, and hear what they are trying to say. Active listening improves not only what you hear but also what they say.”

  • “They will also feel the satisfaction of being heard and understood. It has been said that the cheapest concession you can make to the other side is to let them know they have been heard.”

  • “Standard techniques of good listening are to pay close attention to what is said, to ask the other party to spell out carefully and clearly exactly what they mean, and to request that ideas be repeated if there is any ambiguity or uncertainty. Make it your task while listening not to phrase a response, but to understand them as they see themselves.”

  • “As you repeat what you understood them to have said, phrase it positively from their point of view, making the strength of their case clear.”

“Speak to be understood.”

  • “Talk to the other side.”

  • “[N]egotiation is not a debate. You are not trying to persuade some third-party. The person you are trying to persuade is seated at the table with you.”

  • “[Treat] your opposite number as a fellow judge with whom you are attempting to work out a joint opinion.”

  • Limit the size of the meeting. “No matter how many people are involved in a negotiation, important decisions are typically made when no more than two people are in the room.”

“Speak about yourself, not about them.”

  • “It is more persuasive . . . to describe a problem in terms of its impact on you than in terms of what they did or why: ‘I feel let down’ instead of ‘You broke your word.’”

  • “[A] statement about how you feel is difficult to challenge. You convey the same information without provoking a defensive reaction . . .”

“Speak for a purpose.”

  • “Sometimes the problem is not too little communication, but too much.”

  • “When anger and misperception are high, some thoughts are best left unsaid.”

  • “Before making a significant statement, know what you want to communicate or find out, and know what purpose the information will serve.”

Communication is never easy.  It gets even harder as the stakes get higher.  Add to it the emotional undertones of family relationships and it can get downright dangerous.  However, if you commit to seeking a higher level of communication and incorporate some of the above suggestions, you will find that your ability to solve problems as a family is heightened.

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This Newsletter is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between Hallock & Hallock and the reader.