Families are always “interesting”, due to dynamic interplays between the diverse personalities that make up the group – as manifested by their behaviours towards each other.
Every family develops a unique behavioural style, which evolves as its members age and mature. Resilient families learn to tolerate and accommodate disruptive individual styles; others never learn how to cope, which inevitably leads to tension, and often to conflict.
Family Business can bring out the best and worst in any family. The additional pressures exerted on relationships impacted by both social and vocational interactions can be extreme. And of course, a work environment provides endless opportunities for abrasive interplays that simply wouldn’t occur if family members weren’t working together.
Some family members in some family businesses behave towards each other in ways they’d never contemplate doing to anybody outside the family. At times, they get so completely lost within their personal emotional miasma, they obviously don’t realise they’re doing anything out of their (or anybody’s) “ordinary”.
Aggressive behaviours can be the result of long-standing family dynamics, created by sibling envy and intergenerational antipathies. They’re usually acted out in response to situational stimuli, although they can also be firmly embedded in regular behavioural interactions. Said interactions can involve otherwise “normal” individuals working out their childhood resentments, within a business environment, in physically, verbally and/or emotionally violent ways.
By way of contrast, dysfunctional behaviours that lie outside the bell curve of objectively “normal” behaviour, are more likely to be caused by permanently damaged egos, or active personality disorders such as narcissism, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar and other depressive disorders.
No mental illness can be fixed with purely rational responses.
1. Acknowledge reality. Nothing gets fixed if the family denies the presence of a serious problem to protect the family and/or the individual. Regrettably, many families, and especially parents, risk everything because they can’t face the possibility that a family member has a mental illness. This links in with the “broken wing syndrome” that causes so many family business conflicts.
2. Observe and diagnose, as objectively as possible. If it walks, talks and acts like a duck… Any thinking person is entitled to form opinions about behaviours that don’t add up. They just shouldn’t form final conclusions, and/or act on their opinions, without expert confirmation.
3. Obtain expert help. Mention the word “psychologist” and most families duck for cover, and don’t invite you back. However, if the suggestion can be wrapped in a proposal about executive coaching that also involves personality testing, there’s far more likelihood you’ll make it happen.
If the suggestion of testing / coaching is directed at the entire executive team, it’s usually far more palatable. Using a coach who is also a qualified psych is the key here.
4. Create detailed job descriptions for business executives as part of a performance management system. Include subjective behavioural requirements in addition to the usual objective production / financial requirements.
Reviews and feedback must be handled sensitively, and NOT by another family member.
Behavioural discord is a major contributor to the misery that can come out of the Family Business Curse. The challenge for every family-in-business is to turn the curse into a blessing. That requires realism in business, and empathy / sympathy in the family. Separate thinking and separate decision-making are key to this.