What ‘hat’ are you wearing?: 


Using the ‘hats/rooms’ framework to enhance communication in enterprising families

For enterprising families with a multi-generational mindset, communication can become complex as members handle diverse roles and situations within their own family. In such cases, the ‘hats/rooms’ concept proves to be an invaluable tool to clarify roles, establish boundaries and foster objectivity, resulting in better communication, decision-making and smoother conflict resolution.

How many ‘hats’ do we wear?

The ‘hat/room’ concept refers to the idea that we all wear different ‘hats’ which represent different roles, responsibilities, and identities that we take on within our lives. These roles could be as a parent, sibling, owner, manager, or advisor, with each hat representing a specific context or aspect of involvement in the family/family enterprise. Similarly, the ‘room’ refers to specific settings or contexts where certain discussions can take place, and where you may play a different role and have different expectations in. 

Defining the hats you wear – for yourself, and for others

Being aware of the roles we assume is crucial. In a family setting, you may start out wearing your ‘sister’ hat to discuss your upcoming family vacation, become ‘medical doctor’ as the conversation evolves into discussions of health, then switch to ‘owner’ as you touch upon family planning and decision-making, all in the span of minutes. 

Differentiating between which hat you are wearing can change the entire dynamic of your conversation and shape the behaviours, expectations, and interactions of ourselves and others. Just as you wouldn’t wear a baseball cap to a horse race, you wouldn’t come into a shareholder meeting wearing your ‘sibling’ hat.

How enterprising families can benefit from the ‘hat/room’ framework

  • Clarify roles & contributions: Clearly defining the roles of each family member within the enterprise allows for better alignment of responsibilities and expectations. This reduces confusion and potential conflicts that might arise due to role ambiguity.
  • Improve objectivity in decision-making: By compartmentalizing discussions based on the relevant ‘hat’, family members can approach business decisions with greater objectivity and focus on the best interests of the enterprise within an enterprise conversation context, and the best interests of the family within a family conversation context.
  • Value each family member’s perspective: Well-defined hats can encourage family members to welcome different perspectives, areas of expertise, and contributions of each family member.
  • Increase engagement across all family members: The added structure and clarity offered by this framework can encourage greater and more meaningful participation from family members, while reducing conflict through minimized breakdowns in information flow.
  • Facilitate difficult conversations: When conflicts arise, the hat/room concept provides a structured approach to addressing issues by clearly defining boundaries.
  • Encourage next-generation leadership: For younger family members, helping them to clearly define their current and future hats within the enterprising family serves as a beneficial tool for succession planning and continuity.

Adopting the ‘hat/room’ framework

Defining the different ‘hats’ you wear allows you to adopt various roles during conversations, without changing who you are. By understanding our intentions and the desired outcomes of those we speak with, we can navigate discussions effectively and choose the right ‘hat’ for the right ‘room’, or situation.  

Begin by identifying and clarifying your own ‘hats’ and ‘rooms’ by listing the hats you wear in your roles, including personal life, professional life, and any others that are relevant to your situation, as well as the various different scenarios – or ‘rooms’ – that you often encounter. As you embark on conversations with your family, reframe the dynamics of your relationships by actively defining which ‘hat’ you are wearing and using this to guide your contributions in the different ‘rooms’ you will find yourself in. Prior to entering situations where you wear multiple hats, ask yourself: “Who do I need to be right now?” and make clear which hat you are wearing to your conversation counterpart(s). If you need to switch hats, make sure you let others know. Are you speaking to the CEO now, or your brother?

By using the hat/room concept, we can establish clear boundaries between family issues and enterprising matters to facilitate improved communication, decision-making, and an environment of mutual growth, trust, and understanding.