Leading Global Family Enterprise Membership Association Awards Distinguished Certificate 

Ian Macnaughton of TransitionPoint Consulting has been awarded the FFI GEN (Global Education Network) Advanced Certificate in Family Business Advising (ACFBA) by the Family Firm Institute.

The certificate is presented to individuals who have achieved comprehensive professional knowledge and gained significant expertise that can be used by family business owners and family wealth clients. This distinction further ensures that the highest standards in professional best practices will be implemented. The Family Firm Institute (FFI) Advanced Certificate in Family Business Advising is designed to increase awareness and exposure to concepts, skills and knowledge necessary to optimize effectiveness as family business advisors and consultants. “Through completion of the Advanced certificate program, Ian Macnaughton has gained a deeper understanding of the needs of family-owned enterprises and the many roles family business and non-family members play, “ said Judy Green, Executive Director of the Family Firm Institute.

Participants have access to cutting edge information and resources for exploring the core disciplines — behavioral science, finance, law and management science — and steps for forming collaborative teams. FFI provides multidisciplinary educational programs to advance family enterprises worldwide by enabling collaboration between family enterprise practitioners and academics, creating a global network of professionals.

The Family Firm Institute, an international professional membership organization of over 1800 individuals and organizations across 88 countries, is dedicated to providing interdisciplinary education and networking opportunities for family business and family wealth advisors, consultants, educators and researchers. It works to increase public awareness and broaden the understanding of trends and developments in the family business and family wealth fields. As the dominant form of business organization worldwide, family businesses make a unique contribution to the social vitality and economic wealth of communities. FFI seeks to increase the understanding of the family enterprise as a fundamental driver of global economic growth and prosperity.

An introduction to SAVI®— the System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction

By Claudia Byram, Ph.D. and Ian Macnaughton, Ph.D. (This article was first published in the Spring 2013 issue of Insights into Clinical Counselling, the Journal of of the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors)

SAVI®, pronounced “savvy,” is a system for analyzing talk – the verbal interactions between people.

SAVI® emerged in the 1960’s, in an exciting and innovative university climate. The field of group dynamics was still young, the focus on education was growing, and theoreticians like Kurt Lewin and Ludwig von Bertalanffy had put out important new ways of thinking: field theory and general systems theory.

Two graduate students at Temple University, Yvonne Agazarian and Anita Simon, were part of this world of ideas, and sparked around their shared interests. Both wanted to able to describe in specific observable ways how any particular ‘system’ is working, so that this description could be linked to outcome measures. They wanted to be able to link how people behaved to notions like productivity, satisfaction of members, efficiency, cohesion, etc.

The output of this collaboration was SAVI®. SAVI® began life as a research tool based in information theory. It was a way of tracking the potential of groups to process information and solve problems. Its authors thought that if such a system was based in theory, rather than judgments about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behavior, it could be very helpful in researching the actual effects of different communication behaviors or patterns and in relating these effects to the goal of the setting.

What the authors did not anticipate was how useful this observation tool would be for clinicians and their clients in recognizing and changing painful, frustrating and unproductive patterns in everyday life.

We, the authors of this article, both stumbled across SAVI® several years ago, and have been intrigued with it ever since. Claudia was a graduate student in 1975, and became so curious about SAVI® that she apprenticed herself to its authors as a ‘go-fer’ in research, and has never looked back. She uses SAVI® in her clinical and consultation practice and is a senior SAVI® trainer.

Ian says SAVI® has become an effective tool in his personal relationships as well as in his counseling and coaching practice. It is easier to notice the patterns of language that actually impede the flow of helpful, connected communication. Clients like it as using SAVI® makes it is easy to identify patterns in themselves and to know what to ask or say differently to gain the results they want.

Ian remembers a conversation with a friend: We got into an opinion debate around the effectiveness of various counselling methods; it was going nowhere until I asked for examples, his experience, and information on the research that had shaped his opinion. He quickly moved to giving me factual information, I lost the desire to “debate and prove” and became curious, we connected around the topic very differently and we both learned something helpful.

A Bit about SAVI®

SAVI® categorizes the way we talk, distinguishing, for example, Opinions from Questions from Sarcasm from Facts from Feeling statements, etc. It organizes these categories into a 3 by 3 grid, with three rows according to their potential to transfer information: Red row behaviors introduce noise (for example, Attacks, Complaints, Gossip, Discounts), Yellow row behaviors are neutral (e.g., Facts, fact Questions, Proposals) and Green row behaviors give evidence that the speaker heard what others said (e.g., Paraphrasing, Answering questions, Building).

When communication is organized this way, SAVI® allows us to make informed judgments about the effects we can expect different kinds of communications to have. It also provides practical guidelines for intervening in unproductive conversations. As counselors, talk is our major tool and it is useful to have an objective way of understanding it.

Here are two examples. These people are talking about different things, but have the same communication problem – the same SAVI® pattern! See if you can spot it.

A. Let’s get down to business here on our budget. Income this side, expenses the other.

B. Ok, but don’t you think we need to look at goals first? That’s what the budget is for after all.

A. Sure, goals matter, but if we don’t know what we have coming in and going out now, we won’t know where we are starting…

B. I know our income and outgo matters, but if we start there….

Here’s another one…

A. You did say you would do the dishes.

B. I know, but I just don’t have time to do it now.

A. Ok, but when will you? I don’t want to stand around looking at dirty dishes.

B. I know you want me to, but I have other priorities right now. I’ll get to it.

A. Of course, but…

Familiar? If you ask these people what the problem is, they might say the other person is stubborn, or that the problem is the budget, or that “she never listens to me”. An observer might say competing agendas are the problem, or that no one is listening.

So what does SAVI® say? SAVI® sees the difficulty as coming not from motivation or agenda or personality (though our ideas about that may be correct), but from the “noise” the speakers are inadvertently putting into the challenge to communicate with each other.

The particular kind of noise deadlocking these conversations is called “Yes-But”, a Red row behavior. Yes-But statements carry a token agreement, the “yes…”, followed by a difference, the “but…”. As listeners we naturally orient to the “but…” so the differences come front and center and any possible similarities are lost. Stress goes up, frustration rises and trouble is on the horizon.

Content can be conveyed using many different kinds of behavior — the same information can be expressed in the form of a question, a proposal, a joke, a put-down, and so forth. What the listener hears, and how effectively the information will be used, depends on the behavior used. We all know this intuitively; SAVI® organizes what we know so that we can track and teach it. Using SAVI®, we can understand why the message received by a listener is quite different from the message that the speaker meant to send, and see what to do to get the conversation back on track.

  • SAVI® provides a way of thinking about and describing communication that enables us to: Understand and explain what’s happening in any given conversation.
  • Predict what is likely to happen next.
  • Try to change the course of those events, if you wish.

The SAVI® Paradigm

Thus the SAVI® approach to the challenge of understanding communication is different from the way many of us are used to thinking about what we say and what others say to us. Some of its characteristics are:

  • A focus on behavior. SAVI® is not concerned with a person’s level of maturity, intentions, psychological diagnosis, character or personality. It focuses squarely on behaviors and their contribution to the communication process — information that is available to any observer.
  • Attention to both words and tone. SAVI® examines not only what was said but how it was said. Voice tone (the “music” of the communication) is as important as the words we speak, and SAVI® always takes this factor into account.
  • A nonjudgmental approach. In SAVI® terms, there are no good behaviors or bad behaviors. If you’re thinking SAVI®, you’re in the position of a researcher or detective – you are collecting data about the effects of what was just said, without judging or personalizing it.
  • A pragmatic analysis. SAVI® categorizes communication behaviors in very practical terms, examining whether they tend to facilitate or hinder information transfer. The behavior you use profoundly influences what your listener hears, how likely they are to take in that information, and what feelings they’re likely to have about what you’re saying. In studying SAVI®, you learn why (and when) certain behaviors work better than others for getting your message across.

The SAVI® model has assisted therapists, coaches, organizational consultants and clients to achieve more satisfying and productive conversations. It is easy to share with clients and can be used right away, reinforcing confidence and promoting hope that disagreements can be navigated and more effective relationships can occur whatever the goal of the conversation.

Learning the model ups awareness of communication behavior as it is happening, provides new strategies to move communication toward the desired goal and allows for simple, structured practice.

The web site SAVIcommunications.com outlines the basics of the model and is worth taking a look at.

SAVI® is a registered trademark of Yvonne Agazarian and Anita Simon


Claudia Byram, Ph.D., has brought SAVI® into educational and organizational settings and to the annual conference of the American Group Psychotherapy Association. She is also a founding member of the Systems-Centered® Training and Research Institute.

Ian Macnaughton, Ph.D., R.C.C., uses SAVI® both in his psychotherapy practice and in his work with Family Businesses. He has extensive experience as a Family Systems Consultant and Coach and has been both a clinical supervisor and an instructor.

Tags: SAVI®

SAVI ® – System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction

SAVI is straightforward to understand, providing simple techniques for describing and mapping all aspects of a conversation. By studying this method, you learn to differentiate between the content of communication —WHAT you’re trying to say — and HOW it is said. SAVI enables you to clearly identify which behavior patterns strain relationships and which ones foster receptivity. It’s a constructive, nonjudgmental approach.

During this two-day introduction you will learn how to analyze communication patterns and identify problematic and productive patterns in yourself and others. In small groups you will practice intervening in unproductive discussions and fostering positive, satisfying conversations. You will leave the workshop with powerful skills that you can use right away.

  • Improve Decision Making
  • Resolve Conflict
  • Reach Understanding
  • Enrich Collaboration

— in couples and partnerships, teams and work groups, organizations and with oneself.

A Two-Day Introductory Workshop with

Claudia Bryam, PhD has worked with SAVI ® since 1975 and is a senior trainer in the SAVI ® Certification Program and an active clinician.

Ian Macnaughton, PhD, RCC, FEA is an active Family Business Advisor with a private practice and many years of teaching experience.  

When:     Thursday May 2 and Friday May 3, 2013, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Where:     Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St., Vancouver, B.C.

Fee:          $350 before April 7th; $375 thereafter

To register email Helena Robinson at helerob@shaw.ca

SAVI ® is the registered trademark of Anita Simon and Yvonne Agazarian.


Tags: Claudia Bryam, SAVI®, Workshop

When a business decision becomes a family problem –

Stephen imagined his 65th birthday party at his son Kevin’s home would fill him with a sense of achievement. He and his wife, Gloria, just five years younger, had built their businesses together. They owned a number of real estate brokerage agencies and development properties. Stephen is dismayed at how the decision he and Gloria need to make about what to do with the businesses seems to be affecting their relationship with their four children: Kevin 35; Lucy, 26; Sarah, 23; and Cynthia, 21.

Only Kevin is in the business. He has made significant contributions to the success of their real estate development businesses, the agencies, and developing investment properties.  He has foregone the salary he would have received at other enterprises believing that his father and mother will compensate him in terms of controlling assets in their wills.

Once Stephen told him that he and Gloria are considering selling the offices and just managing the real estate assets, it has been very stressful for Kevin, who was counting on this position being a lifetime career.

Last week each of the children let him know they need to know how the assets will be divided and what is going to happen. In just a few days the issue of assets, i.e. money and equal shares, has created stress between family members and there are some very harsh language positions being taken.

Now Stephen wishes there were no birthday party planned next month. He’s worried about what will happen when everyone is at Kevin’s. He feels angry and uncertain about the future.

These problems aren’t unusual

“Disparate family goals, values, and needs” are one of the biggest challenges that business families face according to John L. Ward, author of Growing the family business: special challenges and best practices in the Family Business Review (1997, 10/4) Kevin’s family business story also illustrates all four of the challenges that Peter Leach names in the Family Business Rulebook:

  • Lack of communication (conflict)
  • Family members’ employment in the business (Merits VS Entitlement)
  • Business transition to the next generation (Succession)
  • Manage change in both the family and the business (changes)

PricewaterhouseCoopers surveyed family firms operating in 35 countries and found that 62% lacked a family strategic plan and 44% lacked common family interests.

It’s common for a fear of conflict to prevent families from even talking about the decisions that need to be made, let alone making the decisions or actually carrying them out.

Often there is no one within the family that has the soft skills in communication and facilitation needed to create an environment that feels safe enough to deal with the emotional issues within families that have a profound affect on the family business.

Fear of conflict and change, sibling rivalry and other unresolved issues from childhood, as well as “pairings” within the family or other issues that feel too hot to handle, need more professional knowledge and experience with family dynamics and ways of structuring meetings and conversations to allow the necessary expression of emotion while ensuring that exchanges are constructive and focused on meeting family goals.

Typical solutions

Families often seek structural solutions to emotional situations. These types of solutions are concrete, usually well defined and familiar to most business owners and their advisors. These typically include focusing on tax strategies and financial planning and estate planning with an array of interventions such as an estate freeze, selling the business, putting shareholder agreements in place, and pruning operations or branches of the family. Any of these could be useful and still not get at then emotional issues that are creating negative dynamics within the family and the business.

When emotions are ignored problems aren’t solved

When the emotions that are in play are not addressed family fighting and conflict can continue with resulting loss of financial capital and family wealth over time. Family members and essential non-family business employees may decide to leave a toxic or uncertain environment. Eventually the business can fail as the family issues intrude on the success of the business ventures.

Sometimes families think that the emotional dynamics have been addressed when  they have either been corralled (we’ll deal with this after . . .) or buried. Differences are not fully understood or worked out, sibling rivalry is disguised, nepotism and entitlement can flourish, roles and authority are not clear.

Signs that emotions are negatively affecting family business dynamics

  • Family members are afraid of conflict and lack the communication skills to resolve conflicts
  • Family member goals and values are unclear
  • Boundaries between the Family and the Business keep shifting
  • Governance issues come up when decisions need to be made
  • Decisions are often perceived to be based on entitlement rather than merit
  • Relationships and interactions fall into triangles where one person feels oppressed, one is named the villain, and one tries to save the first person from the villain.

The problem with triangles is that the solutions lie outside the triangle dynamic and those party to a triangle relationship will find themselves changing roles within the triangle so the victim becomes the oppressor and the rescuer becomes the new victim, etc.

Attending to emotional family dynamics

A Family Business Advisor with a background in family therapy and business has the skills needed to understand and resolve potential or actual differences and is able to teach the skills family members need in order to better handle the emotional side of family dynamics. These can be incorporated in normal business practice.

It is also important that family members learn more about business through courses and through working in other businesses so that they share a broader business context. Business policies can be developed that set agreed standards for performance and entry requirements for different positions.

Introducing money management skills to family members early on, and ensuring familiarity with the business, its values and operations, can avert some common difficulties.

Good governance promotes effective communication

The longer-term solution is to think about a strategy that will minimize differences becoming “too different”. This can be addressed by governance; developing a structure that clarifies the organization of the family and its relationship to the individuals, family groups, and the business. This process involves creating governance structures and a governance system. It can be done in parallel to working with the emotional issues that have become impediments to family harmony. It is also a way to build the relationship of family members to each other and the family business.

The rewards

Learning to attend to emotional family dynamics provides an insurance policy for both  family harmony and generational well being. Family business members who have both business knowledge and emotional skills are better able to preserve both human and wealth capital. The well being of the family and the increased probability that the business(s) will prosper and grow, and adapt are parallel to the families ability to meet changes in the environment together. The probabilities of loss both in the family and the business are greatly reduced and an increased probability of wealth preservation and family well-being through the generations is greatly enhanced with less stress and better decisions.

Hope for a happier birthday 

If Stephen, Gloria and their family can pay some serious attention to their emotions, learn more about communicating when emotions are involved, and clarify goals and values, Stephen’s birthday party could still turn into a celebration.

An experienced facilitator can help them learn the communication skills they need and help the family address the issues that need to be discussed in a safe environment without short-changing challenging conversations. Working with a facilitator will also increase their ability to move toward their desired state more quickly.

Tags: Articles

In September 2012, I co-presented a ninety-minute webinar for the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise.  It was attended by forty-five members and a recording of the webinar is available on CAFE’s website.  It is for members of family businesses and associate members.

I co-presented with Michelle LeBaron, from the University of British Columbia Law Faculty.  Michelle is an international expert in conflict resolution and the author of a number of articles on the subject.  In the presentation, we explored approaches to resolving and transforming conflict for useful outcomes.  We also modeled a complex conflict situation through role-play.  Members attending were encouraged to ask questions and notice patterns as we moved through a first role-play that presented the conflict and a subsequent role-play where one of us was still reactive and the other utilized the principles outlined in the webinar to bring the intensity of the differences involved into a more mature and useful dialogue.

In June 2012 I attended the International Family Enterprise Research Academy in Bordeaux, France.  The theme of the conference was Emotional Family Dynamics in the Family Business.  150 people, researchers, family business members and advisors from twenty countries, attended the conference.

The research presented, and the ensuing discussions ranged from more technical methods of analysis around succession strategy to governance and strategic planning.  There were also several presentations from consultants who presented together with the family business member that they were advising and involved in research with about their own challenges.