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Working for a Family Member… How do you muster the patience to deal with those habits that bug you at family gatherings? – EJ Spirtas Writes “Don’t Wreck The Empire” a family business Memoir.

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Working for a Family Member… How do you muster the patience to deal with those habits that bug you at family gatherings?   This excerpt from “Don’t Wreck The Empire” a family business Memoir – A prince looks at the kingdom.

Great question and I want answers.  As a son, brother, sister, father; you have dealt with a habit, style or behavior of a “loved one” and that mere character trait drives you insane when your at Sunday dinner, but now your working with them.  Are you kidding?

One has to put aside the fact that he despises hearing the other sibling speak and get the job done!  Someone has to run the multi-million dollar company?

YES!  That is the case!

How do you do it?

You are going to have to tolerate more than difficult decisions, a volatile business climate, financial strain, and the unknown of private daily circumstances that occur in a small business, you will have to accept the behaviour traits of your business partners (they may happen to be related) even though you feel as if you will be pushed over the edge with by one more joint presentation

Is it really the traits of your relative that are WRONG?  Maybe you are the inflexible one?  It is important to study the very behavior that infuriates you.  Don’t just run in an fix it, maybe that behaviour has a place and your inflexibility is what is causing the conflict.

Is the relative too nice, to strong, unresponsive, workaholic?  Any behaviour has a place and the first fix may be to find where that trait best fits into the organization.  I do not want to casually recommend counseling, but there are a number of family business counselors and consultants.  While you can do a lot by being fair minded and working responsibly with the family, professionals can truly eliminate behaviors and “land-mines” that you may not see lying in the office. 

The best help is from someone that has come from, been involved in or is a part of a family business.  The best advise comes from a person that has experience in the family business “battle field”.

Tolerance, patience, compassion and most of all the desire to earn a living should drive you to a plan of action.

  1. What is the cost of advise or counselling?
  2. Is there enough business to support all of the family members?
  3. Is there an apparent role for all?
  4. What are the past successes and failures of counselling or advisory
  5. Do you want to make it work?
  6. Do you need the income so badly that you will tolerate anything for the all mighty dollar.

Can you come up with questions to ask?

There are so many questions to ask that will cause you to look deep.  Answer the questions honestly, and recognize that your decision to participate in a family business is not just a job, but a responsibility to your immediate family and the extended family.  You can help and hurt the ones you love if you are too abusive and over bearin this type of relationship.



Written by Dr. Steven Berglas, Ph.D.,

Head Coach

The Key To Keeping A Family Business Alive

Steven Berglas, Ph.D., 05.19.09, 08:00 PM EDT 

Childhood conflicts, repressed and unresolved, can snap bonds of brotherhood. Air them out, once and for all.

Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates, observed: “When brothers agree, no fortress is so strong as their common life.”

Bonds of brotherhood come in handy in business. Scads of studies indicate that family-owned companies (which account, by some estimates, for 50% to 70% of global GDP) have a competitive edge over the rest. But those bonds can unravel at a frightening pace too–and plenty of families don’t see it coming.

Here’s the all too typical arc: When brother-owners first face a common enemy–interest payments, ornery customers, feckless employees–they tend to work in tireless harmony. There is no time for dusty, unresolved conflicts. (If your livelihood is threatened, who cares if Dad spent more time with your brother than you?) It’s when things start getting good that those old ghosts start jangling their chains.

Just ask Javier Ibanez, co-owner of Three Brothers Mexican Buffet, now with 18 locations throughout the U.S. (The names here have been changed, but the characters are real.) Born to a poor family in Guadalajara, Mexico, Javier dreamed of running a business with his two younger brothers, Joaquin and Jaime. “I worked six days a week for eight years [as a waiter in San Diego] so I could bring my brothers here from Mexico,” says Javier. “Who else would you trust to build a business with?”

In Pictures: Seven Family Businesses For The Ages

In Pictures: Seven Tips On Communicating Well With Employees

When the Ibanez brothers opened their first location in San Diego in the early 1980s, they were a well-oiled, unrelenting unit. A few years later, with four locations up and running, Javier made what would prove a deleterious decision: He decided to expand the operation. Javier went on the road to scout locations in major cities that had significant Hispanic populations. Joaquin, the second oldest brother, and Jaime, the youngest, would remain in San Diego.

Out popped the ghosts–specifically Jaime’s. As a physically weak and emotionally insecure child, Jaime was teased by his six siblings (he had four sisters) with the exception of Javier, his protector. When, at age 16, Javier left the family for San Diego, Jaime, then only 6, felt abandoned, resentful and terribly scared. Jaime would confide to me later than he had repressed those feelings for decades.

When those memories came roaring back, the friction was fierce. If Joaquin disagreed with Jaime (about everything from adding a menu item to the likely outcome of a San Diego Chargers football game), Jaime would lash out, even cry. If Joaquin made a minimal request of his brother, Jaime would defiantly shout: “I’m your partner, not your slave,” and stomp off.

Making matters worse was a rather Machiavellian operations manager who tried to use the brothers’ conflict to his advantage. Every time Jaime started shouting at Joaquin, the manager rushed to Jaime’s side–all the while stoking Jamie’s frustration with Joaquin and extracting favors such as hiring his relatives, taking extended weekend breaks and giving himself a company car. When Javier got wind of all this, he fired the manager, sending Jaime further into a tailspin. At his pique’s pitch a year ago, Jamie accused his brothers of plotting against him and resigned from the company.

Within weeks, the brothers had coaxed Jaime back into the fold. But they still had a big problem: How to restore the unity that served them so well as both a family and a business? My answer to them when they sought my help: Air it all out.

I walked the brothers through a number of role-playing exercises that involved having them raise a concern and resolve it. It took some effort, but eventually Jaime opened up about how he felt about Javier going on the road to expand the business. When Jaime spontaneously blurted, “Javier, you have been my salvation my entire life,” it was Javier who broke down in tears.

Too touchy-feely for you? Today, the brothers end each work week with a “decompression meeting,” where they hash out any raw feelings. The rule of thumb for these sessions is that no issue is too trivial, and no one leaves the meeting harboring a grudge. More often than not, as with other family owners I’ve worked with, those chats lead to a hearty chuckle–each one another brick in that fortress.

Dr. Steven Berglas spent 25 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry. Today, he coaches entrepreneurs, executives and other high-achievers. Direct questions or comments to:

In Pictures: Seven Family Businesses For The Ages

In Pictures: Seven Tips On Communicating Well With Employees

Offer your experiences… Questions and Answers to the Family Business experience.  It should not be a punishment to go to work.  We all need family, how do you keep it healthy at the work place? 


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