Most of us are able to separate our working lives from our personal lives. We might socialize with people we meet at work but often our colleagues are not our siblings, cousins or parents who have known us all our lives. When you work with your family, that line is very blurry and it is not easy at all to separate work from personal. Open, honest communication can be scary. It takes intentional thought and skilled communicators to keep the peace – especially where there are conflicts.
Families quickly learn that they make a lot of assumptions about each other. These assumptions are based on history and can often change a business conversation into a personal one, “You’ve been like that since you were a child!” In one family we studied, parents fell prey to attribution errors much more frequently with their children working in the business than with non-family employees.
Successful business-owning families know that good communication requires trust, vulnerability, and the willingness to raise issues that may lead to disagreement or conflict. Conflict is not to be avoided but entered into respectfully. Conflict often arises from different perspectives. Where there is trust, team members engage in unfiltered, constructive debate of ideas. The opportunity to offer opinions and debate ideas often leads to increased commitment and more accountability. Encouraging input leads to more engaged individuals, leading to increased discretionary effort because the team members care about the results.
Successful families put structures in place that promote, facilitate and ensure there is continual flow of information, ideas, thoughts, attitudes, opinions and feelings. One structure that supports open communication is to hold regular family meetings. Family meetings serve many important purposes and become increasing important as the family grows. Family meetings may use facilitators or experts to help members educate themselves about the business, evaluate their strengths, develop communication skills, receive the support to pursue their dreams (inside and outside the business), learn the art of compromise, and talk about their purpose in owning a business together.
And above all else, have fun together!