A Simple Tip For Talking About Conflict In The Family Business
By Kyle Danner
There’s probably a conversation you need to have with someone that you’ve been avoiding. In family business, there are usually many conversations that we avoid. That’s expected and perfectly natural. Congratulations, you’re a human being.
While it may be perfectly natural to avoid, it’s certainly not helpful.
So why is it so hard to address difficult topics like fighting in the family business or a lack of a game plan for passing the business onto the next generation, and how can we lead a positive conversation to resolve them? Below, I'll outline steps you can use to talk about the elephants in your family business before they lead to a blow out.
What Happens When We Try To Talk About Problems In The Business
Before we get into how to start a discussion about problems in the business, it might be beneficial to walk through what typically happens if you try to talk about highly emotional topics with the family. This will help you know what to expect (and what the other parties involved are going through as well).
When conducting business, we’re taught that we should always look someone in the eye and communicate face to face. It’s a sign of respect for the other person.
However, if it’s a difficult conversation like your cousin not meeting his profit goals, Mom not finishing the bookkeeping in a timely manner, or Uncle not responding to a client’s request for a quote, you may be hesitant to engage. Again, that’s understandable, but it’s not helpful
Knowing that we need to have a difficult conversation about issues in the family business already has us on edge. Our stress response is primed making it more challenging to remain calm and focused on the task at hand.
We may think that communication is all verbal (talking and listening), but that’s only a fraction of the dynamic. Many communication studies show that talking/listening is less than half of what goes on.
When we’re face to face with someone, we’re:
- Thinking about what we’re saying;
- Processing what he or she is saying;
- Monitoring his or her body language;
- Monitoring our body language;
- Watching the environment around us.
We may not be aware of it, but our brain is working hard. All of that activity takes energy, which is tiring. That makes it more difficult to focus on the conversation. Add the tension of the family relationship, and the brain is working overtime.
This conversation has to happen. You know this, and the other people involved in the dispute know this as well. So you need to take the pressure off of you and the other person without ignoring the issue entirely—and this one easy trick is the perfect way to do just that.
One Simple Way To Make The Conversation A Little Easier
If you have had difficult conversations in the past, they may have looked like this: You invite the other parties into your office or a sitting room. Then, you take the seat across from them and try to bring up the topic as tactfully as possible. But there's already a flaw in this strategy, one you might not have ever considered: your seating arrangement.
Instead of sitting across from one another, try this instead. Don’t sit a conference table or at a desk. Instead, place the chairs at an angle or sit side by side.
What's the reason for the different seating arrangement? Joseph Shrand in Outsmarting Anger shared research where humans can determine the meaning of a face in less than 40 milliseconds. It can take 250-500 milliseconds for us to register awareness.
That smirk on your cousin’s face may just be an involuntary reaction that he’s not even aware of. However, if you see a smirk, that can start a chain reaction you’re not even aware of. Your stress level increases, making it even more challenging to stay focused. Then the cycle starts all over, leading to escalating tension and possibly a full-blown argument.
By not looking at each other directly, some of the pressure of an already difficult situation is lessened. Instead, you can focus on the verbal content (what’s being said) rather than the entire communication package.
Will you feel ridiculous?
Of course you will. It’s something new, and all of us feel ridiculous when we try something new.
Will it work 100% effectively?
Possibly. Again, you’re trying something new, and this is a first step.
Do you have to tell the other person what you’re doing?
You don’t have to. Just consider the seating arrangement as part of your planning for having a difficult conversation.
Prevent Problems Before They Happen With EOS
If you have awkward, uncomfortable, or downright unpleasant problems in your family business, you aren't alone. Most (if not all) businesses struggle with conflict, and it's something we all like to avoid.
Fortunately, by changing up your seating position, you can reduce the tension in the situation and focus on what really matters: resolving the problems then and there.
Another great solution for preventing blowouts before they happen is EOS®, the Entrepreneurial Operating System. This system helps you clarify your business's vision, get family and employees on the same page, and ensure everyone's rowing in the same direction. Much of the conflict we experience in family businesses comes from the wrong people being in the wrong seats. EOS is designed to help your team realize whether they're a good fit for the business or not.
If you think EOS could be a valuable asset for your business, let's talk. I'm happy to walk you through how the system works and answer any of your questions. Click the button below to schedule a 90-minute meeting at a time that works for you.