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Clear Lines, Clear Minds: The Importance of Open Communication in Family Business

Aisle Planner Clear Lines, Clear Minds

Whether you’re a solopreneur or lead a small army, and are responsible for making most of the big decisions in your company, the majority of those hard conversations wind up being played out in your own head. You battle back and forth, weighing the pros and cons. Of course, you’re occasionally second-guessing yourself. While you may often feel that you’re the only one who knows what’s best for your business, opening up the lines of communication to even just a few trusted friends, family, colleagues or associates can help create more confidence, better outcomes for your business and – most importantly – your sanity.


What do you think?

The process gets slightly more complicated as soon as you extend your thought process to ask your significant other “But, what do you think?” You have now opened yourself up to critique and suggestions from someone you know and love; but who may or may not truly understand the nuances of your business. While opening up the business dialog with your most trusted partner in life engages the trust and support you have for each other, make the conversation substantial to your end objective. Provide clear context and an idea of the outcome you need or want, making it easier for your significant other to engage meaningfully.

Multiply the challenges

Take those same business decisions and discussions and flip the script to a business you both own, or to parallel businesses where you often work together. You now have two business partners who are both knowledgeable about the industry, know all of the people you are talking about and may have very different opinions. Be respectful of individual perspectives and opinions, as well as shared or individual business needs. Keep in mind that the outcomes of any decision related to the business you share or the businesses sharing your living room affect the same household bottom line.

Division of labor

In Pia Silva’s article for Forbes, she shares the story of the business she and her husband started together. Life was an easy one; it was the two of them. One knew design and the other business. Done. End of Story. Each handled their area of expertise and life was dandy until…  they hired their first employees. From hierarchy and reporting to salary negotiations and scheduling, they soon realized that by not clearly defining and aligning on vision and their roles for themselves, the disconnect soon lead to discord, and it snowballed down through the ranks.  

Divide. Communicate. Concur or Consensus.

If you are working with your spouse or partner with your own defined roles, take it one step further. Have open and objective conversations about staff and hiring. A new employee’s job description might walk the line between both of your management roles. Clearly define the best way for both of you to co-manage this employee. You might choose for each of you to handle the roles that fall into your specific areas. Or, if that the employee’s job falls mainly in one area, let your partner manage the day to day while you provide the necessary input on responsibilities that fall into yours. Ultimately, keep your employee out of the middle. They must have the clearest line of communication in order to deliver against your expectations for the role that much more effectively.

Pro Tip: Having a degree of vulnerability as a leader, with your working partner or employees, has it’s benefits. Check out this great article how letting your guard down sometimes can help get the best out of your people and yourself!

Communication with style

Learning each other’s communication styles might take a lot of work and some outside help. Most disruptions in business communication happen because couples have very different communication styles. Frustration ensues and communication breaks down, and the business and the personal relationship can suffer. Small Business Trends talks in depth about communication in the workplace and several key pieces spoke to us when considering family members in business together:

  • One on One – do any serious business discussion in private; do not air your dirty laundry and do not drag employees into the middle.
  • Listen to your team members – a discussion is a two-way dialogue. Starting a serious conversation with your spouse that is a monologue, railroading them with a one-sided conversation? The definition of a no-win situation.
  • Use the appropriate tone of voice – enough said.
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition – beating a dead horse is not good for business or personal discussions.
  • Be appreciative – being in business and working together, while it takes work, is a huge benefit for most couples. Be appreciative of your partner and the skills they bring to the table.

Don’t make it personal… please!

Regardless of the business decisions, discussions and yes issues, keep it business and not personal. When you log off, leave the business challenges in the office. If you’re at all like us, you’ve got more than enough decisions to make for the work at home!

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