Difficult Conversations - Family business argument

Resolving Family Business Arguments. How to Have Better Conversations When You Disagree.

I was out with a friend the other day when I noticed this label on the cans we were drinking from:

“Family owned, operated & argued over.”

I had to laugh because arguments are definitely part of the package when you run a family business!

When you combine both family and business, relationships and emotions can add a “charge” to what might be considered a mundane topic or easily sorted out situation in a non-family business.

Common points of difference include:

  • Money! This is the #1 cause of disagreements
  • Succession of wealth, shares, and leadership of the business
  • What direction to take the company
  • Strategy for products or services
  • Ideas about how to grow the business
  • Disagreements between operating and non-operating sides of the family
  • Passion projects that aren’t profitable

Even routine conversations can seem harder due to underlying feelings and family dynamics.

From our outside perspective, we’ve seen many situations that could be summed up like this:

“If it wasn’t family, it would be an easy decision. Quick. Painless. Probably made 5 years ago.”

That said, the passion and opinions and familiarity that allows for frank discussions is part of what makes family businesses so great.

Underneath the surface of the arguments is often a deep caring for each other, for the business, for the employees, and for the products and services the business provides.

So, we don’t want to eliminate differences of opinion or passionate discussion.

Instead, here are 10 tips to help you “argue” more productively.

How to have better conversations when you disagree

  1. Say it when it’s bugging you. Don’t wait until it becomes HEAVY.
  2. Articulate your point by using specific examples. This gives substance to the conversation.
  3. Ask good questions. When you are bringing up a difficult topic, set aside your assumptions and instead, get clarity through curiosity first.
  4. Be a good listener. Listen to understand the other person’s point of view. (You don’t have to agree with them, but you do need to understand them.)
  5. Be direct. Ask: “You appear to be upset. Can you tell me what is upsetting you?”
  6. Be solution focused. Keep the discussion to the real issues – distinguish these from the emotions and reactions.
  7. Some situations or conversations need space. If you try to hash it out right after a disagreement, you many be doing more harm than good. Give everyone time to process, then regroup.
  8. Don’t get your non-family team members involved in your family stuff. Find someone outside of work to talk to if you need to get things off your chest. Everyone has their own family drama to deal with and they don’t want to deal with yours at work.
  9. Avoid absolutes like “You ALWAYS do this” or “You NEVER do this.” Using absolutes challenges the other person to find exceptions. Stick to specific examples and situations instead.
  10. Change your perception of difficult conversations. They are not something to be dreaded or avoided – they often lead to closer relationships, quicker results, and better practice for the next time you must have a difficult conversation.

It gets easier with practice

I’ve had a lot of practice initiating these conversations over the course of my family business career.

While these were often uncomfortable at first, I can honestly say that no matter the outcome, I ALWAYS felt better after having it.

Even when things did not go the way I thought they should or advocated for, I felt better NOT using my energy wondering when the conversation was going to take place or what I was going to say or how it was going to go.

If there’s a situation you’re avoiding or a conversation you know you need to have, get it done sooner rather than later. Now might be a good time 🙂

If you’d like some support, feel free to book a call with me here: Book a Call with Brandi. I’d love to help.

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