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Three Things I Wish I Would Have Known Working In The Family Business

By Kyle Danner - March 28, 2019

I left my family’s business more than 5 years ago. Time and distance provide a perspective that’s impossible to gain when we’re in the daily grind.

As I grew professionally in my work, I often said to myself “If only I had known [fill in the blank], it might not have come to [fill in the blank].”

What are some of the lessons I have learned? Here are a few things:

1. What I Really Wanted

I jumped right into our family’s printing business after college. I didn’t stop for much reflection because I needed a job and my family made room for me. I started by learning to operate bindery equipment such as paper cutters and folding machines. It was a welcome break from the brainy academic work of college.

The first few years felt like I was on a mission, taking on new responsibilities and projects to help grow the business. I got lost in that mission. Instead of working towards my strengths, I forced myself to conform to the job demands. That’s often necessary in the first years of a business or career. However, when our strengths and interests are not aligned with our job, we don’t bring our best self to work.

I wish I had taken the time to really decide what I wanted.

So how do you find yourself, when meditating at a Tibetan monastery or backpacking through Europe for a year isn’t realistic?

Consider taking a personality assessment to learn more about yourself. The website truity.com offers five different assessments, some of which are free. It’s a way to gain more insight and uncover some blind spots. Even better, you don't have to share the results with anyone.

2. How To Improve My Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotions run high in a family business. In just one day, we feel disappointed, upset, lost, unworthy, satisfied and overjoyed. That’s a lot to experience before 10 a.m. Looking back, I wish I had learned more about EI. It’s more than just knowing yourself. It’s knowing how to manage ourselves under pressure, how to be aware of someone else’s feelings and how to build relationships with others.

Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ brought EI into larger public awareness. It’s a fascinating yet lengthy read. For something briefer and more tactical, try Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry.


3. How To Manage Conflict The Right Way

This is a big one. Most families’ conflict management style is avoidance. It’s understandable. It’s easier if we don’t talk about mom’s poor bookkeeping skills or Uncle Joe’s drinking or Cousin Sal’s inability to close a deal.

Unpacking a family’s emotional baggage is painful. I get it. It was easier to blame mom, dad, brother or sister rather than acknowledge how my actions contributed to the collective tension.

I certainly avoided talking about difficult issues. Not only was I afraid to, but I also didn’t know how. What I didn’t understand is that managing conflict is a skill, just like driving a car or managing your company’s financials. It’s a necessary part of life and not inherently bad. When managed well, it can generate new ideas to move the business forward and even strengthen relationships within the family.

I wish I hadn’t been so afraid of trying to manage conflict or problem-solve headier issues than why the bindery department was behind.

Making conflict work: Harnessing the power of disagreement is a fantastic resource. The authors present seven different styles of managing conflict with lots of examples of each style. What’s nice is that each chapter includes practical examples, a self-assessment, the pros and cons of that particular style and a checklist for implementation. It’s worth the read if you find yourself wondering how to navigate family and business arguments.


Lessons, Not Regrets

I’m not expressing regret when I say to myself “If only I had known.” That’s not helpful and a waste of energy. Had I known, I could have been an even better brother, business partner and owner. Instead, they’re lessons to be learned.

How are you doing in the family business? Have you found your place? Are you using emotional intelligence and conflict management skills to keep the family drama at bay? It can be difficult to succeed in the family business when tensions are high and tempers are flaring up.

So let's work together! Schedule a no-obligation conversation, and let me know what's preventing you and the family business from succeeding. I'll create a plan to help you resolve the conflict within the business so you can do more of what you love — whatever that may be!

Schedule Your Conversation

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