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Why You Can’t Take “Personal” Out Of The Family Business

By Kyle Danner - March 12, 2019

Family business is deeply personal. That closeness you feel towards your loved ones... It’s not left at the door when you come to work. You bring it with you, and it impacts how you work with your family.

Now, some will argue that you have to keep family and business separate — that there has to be a hard line or separation between the two. That’s not realistic for most of us. And when I hear that, I wonder if whoever is saying it is trying to deny that emotional piece to family business.

Because that’s where it gets messy.

It gets really messy when everyone’s stressed out. Maybe it’s the end of the month and sales fell short, so everyone’s scrambling to make it up. Or someone makes a major mistake like not shipping a new customer’s order on time.

And when everyone is stressed, trying to solve the problem, it can lead to a major blow up.

Because things get personal. It’s a family business after all. In the heat of the moment, someone says, “You never listen to me,” or, “I told you this would happen.” And that feels like an attack. Instead of solving the problem, everyone ends up arguing, hurling accusations at each other, and blaming each other.




If this sounds familiar, and I’m sure it does, take the following action:

Before you respond, ask for a time-out. Say, “I want to hear what’s on your mind, but I’m not in the best place at the moment. Can I have 15 minutes?” Then step away. Go for a walk. Take a bunch of deep breaths if it helps calm yourself down. Whatever you need to lessen the intensity for yourself at the moment.

When you come back together, say “Thank you,” then take out a sheet of paper and write down:

Who, What, Where, When, How. Like this…

For example, a new customer’s order is shipped late. Assuming this is the first time, the goal would be to understand if the problem lies in the process or personnel. If it’s a recurring issue with a particular family member, that requires a different approach. Here’s how you would analyze the problem using the “Who, What, Where, When, How” approach:

Who was involved? (Your first inclination may be to ask “Who’s responsible?” or “Whose fault is it?”, but that will lead to finger pointing. By starting with a more open question, you’re likely to get more information.) 

What happened that caused the order to ship late?

Where did the problem occur? In some cases, not all of the fact-based questions are relevant.

When did you realize the order would ship late?

How can we make sure this won’t happen again? (Using “we” rather than “you” includes everyone in the problem-solving process.)

Then start the conversation with, “Help me understand how you see what happened or what you think the problem might be.” Use the sheet of paper with “Who, What, Where, When, How” as a guide. Take time to write down the information you hear. Ask clarifying questions along the way.

It may start with a lot of emotion being thrown at you, but this process of using fact-based questions moves from that really intense emotional state to a thinking state.

By taking the time to write down the answers, you’re also slowing down the speed at which the information is coming at you, helping you, and everyone else, to remain calm.

The goal here is not to address the personal slights or jabs...those things said in the heat of the moment. The goal is to solve the problem. But to solve the problem, and move your family business forward, you have to create an environment where everyone will listen.

So when things feel like they’re going off the rails and it’s getting personal, take a break, re-start with “Thank you,” then slow the process down with fact-based questions that helps everyone listen to each other.

Prepare The Family & The Business For What’s Next

It may be impossible to keep your personal feelings out of the family business. But, by using the tips above, you’ll be able to keep business discussions on track and move past the problems holding the family back.

If you want to unite the family’s values and keep everyone in the business working in harmony, Family Team Launch could be just what your business needs. Family Team Launch aligns your family’s natural strengths with the business’s priorities in one day. The training program is built on the Strengthscope approach and helps each member of the family identify what they bring to the business.

Whether you plan on keeping the business in the family, selling the business, or something in between, Family Team Launch can help prepare your family for what lies ahead. Schedule a free consultation to find out more.

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READ NEXT: How To Deal With Family Members Who Push Your Buttons


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