Let's Talk About It

Families, like any other group of people, have their communication problems. Talking back, arguing, pouting, and throwing tantrums – all these things are part of family life. They depend on the age of the children, of course, though there are adult versions of these same behaviours. Silence, for example, is a form of pouting.

At the literal end of the day, ordinary employees can leave such attitudes in the office; but in a family business, conflict in the home can extend into the business and vice versa. This can create a lethal combination that, if left for long enough, may threaten its very survival.

It means that families have to learn how to communicate with each other, not only at home, but also at work.

Here are five suggestions for how to do that.

1. Family members should be able to express their feelings, desires, and concerns.

In a family business, you can’t dismiss the feelings of others in your family. The tendency is to assume that, “that’s just the way he is. Ignore him. He’ll get over it.” If you’re in business together, then you have to assume in the first instance that the thing that is bothering one of you is something that all of you need to discuss together. You can’t dismiss this as being of no importance. Just because something is little to you doesn’t mean that it’s of no consequence to someone else.

Take for example the issue of what time everyone should come to work. Let’s say that at the beginning, all of you come in at 9.00. But suppose that your responsibilities change such that you rarely come into the office. If a family member gets the idea that you’re skiving off, then you need to discuss it. You mustn’t let negative perceptions fester.

This can be particularly difficult because of the closeness of the relationship that already exists. The problem is that it’s easy to take this for granted. The truth is that your relations are people, too. They have feelings that can be hurt, too, and probably more easily because of the relationship.

By the same token, you can’t avoid discussing difficult business issues because you might step on someone’s toes. A business is a business. Therefore, you must learn to conduct yourself professionally in love.

2. Family members need to receive praise and encouragement for good work

Family members need the approval of others in their family, too; not just criticism. Just like “ordinary” employees, you can’t assume that they will know that they have done well. They probably do; but they want you to know that you know. Make sure that you give one another this vital mutual support.

3. Family members need to recognize that just because they know one another doesn’t mean that there won’t be conflict.

There’s something about money that can change a relationship. Some people deliberately keep a certain distance between their friends and their business. Others have no problem selling goods and services to them.

In a family, the relationship is likely to be a lot closer. You need to recognize that there’s potential for conflict. It won’t simply disappear because you grew up with the person on the other side of the table.

There’s a saying that “some kids never grow up. Their toys just get more expensive.” A paraphrase might be the “some kids never stop fighting. The arguments just get louder and longer.” Provided that you’re aware of this, you won’t be surprised when it happens.

4. Family members must never try to get even with each other.

Apart from incompetence, a quick way to destroy your business is to exercise revenge on someone else in the business. When you do that, you are attacking yourself. Maybe you never looked at this in that way.

What’s the saying? “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It’s as simple as that.

5. The flip side of revenge is forgiveness, and it’s something that families need to get in the habit of doing with each other; even those who aren’t in business.

Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, the Bible says, and with good reason. It’s harder to make things right later, and for many reasons.

Context is the main grounds. The heat of the moment is the best time to put things right. If you wait, then you have to dredge up all that went on before in order for the person you’re speaking with to get back into the “I’ve been offended” mode to the extent necessary for the apology to have any meaning. Hardly anyone is adept at doing this, and so what happens is that both the offense and the apology are unsatisfactory. It sort of leaves a “bad taste in the mouth.”

The longer you wait, the harder it will be to forgive. That’s because just like any wound, a scab will form. There may be an infection inside. In order to deal with the issue, you’ll have to reopen it.

If you put off forgiving for long enough, then scar tissue will form.  It will poison the relationship. Things may never heal.

If your family means anything to you at all, then you will do all that you can to preserve it. If you’re in business together, then you’ll also learn to work together as well as to live together. The two are not mutually exclusive; but you’ll have to work at it.

Not all families can work together. If you can do it, however, then the rewards will be rich. There’s no substitute for being able to spend more time with those you love the most. But you must talk to one another. If you do that, then you’ll preserve your relationships.

To discuss ideas further, get in touch.

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