Navigating tough conversations in family businesses

Picture of John Broons
John Broons

John Broons is a globally awarded family business expert. One of only three people in Australia to hold the coveted title of Fellow of Family Firm Institute (Boston, USA), John has dedicated his working career to answering the question: how do I guide and support families in business to a place where they’re thriving?

When we envision a family business, the images of unity, prosperity, and success often come to mind. However, the untold realities paint a different picture—one that includes tough conversations, disagreements, and the potential for disharmony. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of navigating tough conversations within family businesses, providing a guide for family members to master difficult dialogues and foster harmony.

tough conversations in family business
Tough conversations: the expected reality

In family businesses, the expectation of tough conversations is not uncommon. Disagreements, disharmony, and occasional disconnection are part of the package. These challenges, if left unaddressed, can become significant barriers to both the success of the business and the well-being of family relationships.

Strategies for success
1. Open communication: the foundation of harmony

Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of resolving conflicts within family businesses. Establishing a culture that encourages transparent dialogues can pave the way for addressing challenges before they escalate. Family members should feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns without fear of judgment.

2. Active listening: understanding perspectives

Mastering difficult dialogues requires more than just speaking; it requires attentive listening. Each family member brings a unique perspective to the table, and actively listening to those perspectives fosters a deeper understanding. This, in turn, can lead to collaborative solutions that consider everyone’s needs.

3. Seeking mediation: a neutral third party

In instances where conversations become particularly challenging, seeking the assistance of a neutral third party can be invaluable. A mediator trained in family business dynamics can help navigate the emotional terrain, facilitate discussions, and guide family members towards mutually beneficial resolutions.

The reality of mixing love and money

Owning and working with family businesses for over four decades has revealed the often-unspoken truth: what happens in the boardroom can spill over into the living room, potentially derailing both the business and the family. Mixing love and money, while rewarding, comes with its unique set of challenges that few are prepared to address.

While the challenges are real, proactively managing the ‘family’ part of the family business can change everything. It involves:

  • Education: Equipping family members with the tools to understand and navigate the complexities unique to family businesses.
  • Clarity: Establishing clear communication channels and expectations to prevent misunderstandings.
  • Conversations: Regular, open dialogues that address potential issues before they become insurmountable challenges.

Thriving together

The path to mastering difficult dialogues in family businesses involves a commitment to open communication, active listening, and proactive management. Families can thrive together by embracing the reality that challenges will arise but can be navigated successfully with the right strategies and mindset. With education, clarity, and conversations, family businesses can not only weather the storms but emerge stronger and more connected on the other side.

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