When grownups squabble

Published in The News & Observer December 19, 2010

Jimmy ate my candy. Susie touched me. Michael hit me. These are the phrases all parents endure as they strive to raise their children.

The rivalry continues as the children grow older, just with more complexity.

The good news is that it is a phase. The bad news is that it does not really end until 25 – the age when your body and brain have completed their growth. At this age, auto accidents fall off so dramatically that insurance companies slash their premiums. (More good news, but accompanied by the bad news that at 25 you are now growing old!)

Many adults harbor resentment against their siblings for childhood events, such that whenever discussions get heated, they will conveniently launch these past incidents as retaliatory weapons. “You were always such a jerk growing up” is a phrase you may have heard. The same behavior is often found in unhealthy marriages and other relationships. However, you can end a relationship, but you are stuck with your parent’s other children.

If you are in business with your sibling, your financial well-being and career path are dependent on the health of your relationship with your sibling. To have a successful working relationship with your brother or sister, it is vital that you find a way to get past your childhood differences.

Confusion over responsibilities can also muddy a sibling working relationship. . If you both jump into a problem unbeknownst to the other, other tasks fall to the wayside and someone’s effort will be wasted. More often, each thinks the other is handling the issue when neither is. Then the problem goes unaddressed, blows up, and accusations fly.

At a family business seminar at UNC Greensboro a few weeks ago, the panel was asked, “What is the No. 1 action that can be taken to ensure cooperation among family members?” Tommy Mayes, CEO of the family office for the family that invented Vicks, insisted that “clearly defining roles and responsibilities was essential.”

When working with your siblings, it is critical to agree who will be responsible for what. This way, all the important tasks are addressed and there is accountability.

Effective communication is also critical for a healthy sibling partnership. Have regular meetings. Allow siblings to put whatever they want on the agenda. Leave time for discussion at the end, and be sure to rotate who leads the meetings. Practice active listening: Paraphrase what you heard to the listener and ask whether you understood correctly.

However, money, as we know, is the root of all sibling misunderstandings. Many siblings in business find themselves all with equal pay. We had a client with three brothers receiving equal salary. One was the president; another was in sales, and the other in design. In the open market, these titles alone would demand different compensation. Benefits are simply another form of compensation, and vacation days are usually at the epicenter. Sibling owners need to agree on a vacation policy.

Finally, it is important to understand each other’s life goals and ambitions. Life changes as we go through it, and so do our life goals. Ask where your brother and sister are on their path. This will ensure you are all working together to ensure that each person achieves what he or she wants and needs from your family business.

Coming in two weeks: resolutions for family businesses.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/12/19/868800/when-grownups-squabble.html#storylink=cpy

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