Keeping The Peace In A Family Business

Photo of Phillip M. PerryFamily businesses can be hotbeds of emotion that erode the bottom line. Here are some suggestions for reducing conflicts from Stacey A. Lundgren, a former family business owner and now a consultant in Howell, Mich.:

• When discussing business matters address the siblings as a group rather than as individuals. “Private conversations create suspicion and lack of trust,” says Lundgren. “They can lead to conversations where one sibling says ‘Dad told me you said this’ and the other sibling replies, ‘No, I didn’t say that.’”

• Group meetings keep conversations up front and allow everyone to stay up to date. Hold them at neutral locations. “Avoid home settings in favor of office meeting rooms or hotel conference rooms,” says Lundgren. “The environment has an influence on how people behave.” Assign someone to take notes. 

• Have everyone sign the document drawn up from the meeting notes and state that they are in agreement with what was said and concluded. That will help reduce ‘He said, she said’ scenarios.

• Avoid dividing corporate shares equally. A parental tendency to treat everyone alike can lead to costly turf battles. Infighting can go on for years when no one person is in charge.

• Pre-plan when you can. A lot of grief can be avoided by laying the groundwork for succession years in advance. Be prepared though: The real world can throw the best of plans into turmoil. “Sometimes you do not know who will want to come back into the business at a later time,” says Lundgren.

• Avoid shop talk at family dinners and functions such as holidays and birthdays. “People can get upset when business conversations remind them of workplace issues,” cautions Lundgren. “That can ruin family events.”

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