Difficult Older People & Behaviour Change

We’re seeing increasing numbers of older business owners struggling with the fundamental concept (let alone the required actions!) of family and business succession, and with the challenges of “refiring, not retiring” – as they contemplate living for many years after “finishing” their main work.  That work has often been at the centre of their lives, and has defined their self-image.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this expectation of significantly greater longevity is changing our basic view of life, in later years.  It’s a change that many people are poorly equipped to handle.

So, what can you do when all the sensible advice in the world isn’t working;  promises are being broken, and emotional appeals to family harmony are falling on deaf ears?  It makes no difference that: everything “was done for the family”.

Over many years mediating conflicts between individuals, families and other groups, I’ve come to believe that: “if the game isn’t working”, and you’ve exhausted all the usual options, you probably need to: “change the game”.  In the family business space this suggests trying to change underlying behaviours, which requires deep diving under the skin and into the psyche of the (elderly) subject.

“Intelligences” are labels used by psychologists and educators to describe and predict how individuals process information and other data/sensory inputs, and then behave in response to those inputs.

New types of “intelligence” have been identified and labelled in recent years, beyond the boundaries of “IQ” (intellectual intelligence – standardised reasoning and problem solving) and “EQ” (emotional intelligence – awareness of the emotions of self and others).  They’re used to support learning and problem solving, by recognising that different things work for different people, in different ways, in different situations.  The corollary of this (and an important point for advisers) is that some things will not work for some people in some situations, for reasons that may be entirely opaque to everybody.  This can create seemingly insoluble problems for advisers.  Better understanding is a first step towards developing better solutions.

In addition to IQ and EQ, we’re beginning to think more about “SQ”:  Sensory Intelligence, which relates to visual, audio, tactile and kinesthetic inputs.  Through millions of years of evolution our senses are hard wired into our amygdala (lizard brain), which generates emotions, especially fear, for rapid fight or flight survival responses.

At the simplest level, intelligence enables you to understand, while emotions make you feel and act.  So, when our clients’ actions, or the lack of them, don’t make rational and objective sense to anybody, it may be that there’s some invisible emotional / sensory cause we’re missing.  For advisers, the questions is:  “how do I recognise and deal with that?”

Busy Brain Syndrome (BBS) is one manifestation of SQ.   Our modern, technology-driven, “always on” world has created a pandemic of BBS where many people feel overloaded and overwhelmed.  This makes them shut down and operate on ‘autopilot’ much of the time, for purposes of self-protection against sensory overload.  BBS manifests as a form of relentless “self-talk,” which erodes available brain bandwidth;  encourages people to practice avoidance from making tough choices and to rather cherry pick easier and safer tasks, and ultimately destroys trust due to increasingly low levels of reliability and generally poor performance.

SQ builds greater awareness of the primitive sensory wiring of our brains and the effect our sensory inputs have on what we do, what we observe, and how we imagine things, in our everyday lives.  SQ suggests that unless we are fully aware of ourselves and entirely “in the moment” when we need to be, our SQ may override our IQ and our EQ, so that even a medium yield thermo-nuclear device won’t achieve the movement required.

So, if an adviser is confronted with a client who won’t (or actually can’t) do what any reasonable soul can see they should be doing, can we train their intelligence(s) to overcome their blockage, so they can accept and implement the undoubtedly marvellous and correct advice we’ve given them?

Most senses can be trained and directed to alter / improve performance.  The challenge is to determine which sensory (or other) intelligence is causing the problem, so whatever remediation is attempted can be accurately targeted, by advisers with the right skills.

We’ll continue to explore this theme, especially (but not exclusively) in relation to my favourite business family challenge:  “fossilised owners”.

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