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When Family Businesses & The Holidays Collide

By Kyle Danner

During the holidays, tensions get the best of all of us. But when you add family business to the mix, stress levels are out the roof. 

While you may have a day or two off from work, if you work in a family business, you bring your work home with you every day (usually night). Plus, you're spending the holidays with the people you work with. As you can imagine, things can get hairy fast.

Here are three ideas to help things go more smoothly:

1. Avoid business talk.

Since the business is what the family knows best, talking shop is an easy habit to fall into. However, turning your holiday dinner into a business meeting leaves in-laws and guests out of the conversation.

If you’re not sure what to talk about, try these five conversation starters:

1. What is one of your favorite holiday memories?
2. What do you most admire about a family member? (Make sure everyone is included. Set the rule that a family member can only be mentioned once,)
3. What is a helpful lesson you learned this year? (Emphasize lessons learned in personal life to keep it business free.)
4. What are you most looking forward to doing in the next few weeks?
5. What’s one thing you will do for yourself in 2019?

If conversation isn’t your strength, consider playing board games. It’s an easy way to make small talk. They can be simple like Uno, Scrabble or Dominos or something challenging like Monopoly or Clue. 


2. Redirect rather than engage.

Family members are tempted to push each other’s buttons. They just can’t help themselves. Rather than respond than you typically would, try these alternatives:

    • “I’m not sure what to say to that” then pause for the other person to reply. Saying nothing will feel impossible but remaining quiet takes the pressure off you.
    • “Why talk about something that will just upset both of us?”
    • “We know we won’t change each other’s minds so let’s talk about something else.”

Redirecting rather than engaging stops the potential for another round of tit-for-tat that does nothing but frustrate everyone. Remember, redirection is something new and family members will follow old patterns. It may take a couple of attempts before your loved one takes the hint.


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3. Schedule time for yourself now.

Holidays are stressful enough. If your family’s business is holiday-oriented, like retail or restaurant, it’s even more so. And if your fiscal year ends on December 31st, that’s a whole other level of stress.

Schedule time now to see a movie, binge-watch your favorite show or simply go for a walk. If it’s in your calendar as an appointment, you’ll be more likely to honor it. Treat that scheduled time as if it was a client meeting and resist the temptation to cancel it.

With a little planning, Thanksgiving can be pleasant for everyone, in and out of the family business. Best wishes for an enjoyable season and a prosperous New Year!

How to Prepare for The New Year

Members of family businesses need to prepare for the future but first, they have to know what they want for themselves. Do you know what YOU want? What about other members of your family business?

My free guide, The Ideal Life, provides exercises that will help you determine how well your current priorities match up with your future objectives, so you can cultivate your Ideal Life and make your goals a reality in 2019.