Family Business Webinar Series | Part I
- Sep 27, 2023
How to Manage Emotional Dynamics in Family Companies
Family companies are estimated to be more than 80% of businesses. However, most business-based education neglects to teach strategies on how to effectively deal with our own emotions as well as the emotions of family members. In this session, we covered the reason behind emotional complexity in family companies and some effective strategies to both engage with them and overcome emotional issues that are getting in your way.
Natalie McVeigh: Thanks Astrid. Hi everyone. I'm very excited to be doing this LMC webinar. We've had a partnership with LMC for more than five years now. And we're talking about the emotional dynamics in family enterprises today. The reason I start with this slide is to explain what a family enterprise is, right? Some of you might think it's your company, and it may be. But in my experience with families, there are two to three things that each family owns. So I wanted to break this down, because sometimes the emotional components are about these things here. It could be the real estate, maybe that's owned separately than the company that it's on. It's the actual business, your lumber company, any other company. You might have a vacation home, you might have some investments, you might have some philanthropy, the family boat. And I put a question mark there, because I think it's really important to understand the things that you're owning and managing together.
And this is where it gets complicated. Because if I own and manage with someone, I have to do it with them, right? This webinar happened with several people. You just saw one talking, and that makes it go differently than how I would want it to go on my own. Now, different doesn't mean bad, right? It just means different.
And this is where the emotional components come in, because when your parents who usually start the business or your grandparent who started the business, he or she did it usually by themselves. And they didn't have to share management and they didn't have to share decision making. So they didn't have to really worry about what emotions, if any, are coming up.
So this was the very first three circle model ever that described these systems where it was the family. You have a family because two people have too much wine, and there's a family the next day. No one taught you how to have a family. It just kind of happens.
And then there was the enterprise, and we just went through what that looks like. And then later, we contrasted it with the individual, the persons in the business. You all have different ages, different genders, potentially different faith traditions. We'll go through a lot of the different dynamics.
And that's what made these family companies a little bit complicated, because there's a way we are at work, and we're expected to be a certain way. I'm in an office in Chicago, I'm wearing a suit. That's given. Probably one of these webinars I'll be at home and I'll be in a hoodie. I can do that with my family. And for me as an individual, I have a different perspective and opinion.
This is the three circle model you're probably more familiar with that says there's family, enterprise, the two we already know. And then they add in the ownership system, because not everyone in the company is an owner. And right now, some of you in your companies might be family members who are not owners, but you might be working in the company. So you'd be in this overlap between family and enterprise, but not family enterprise and ownership.
You can add as many circles as you want, right? We probably should still be adding this individual circle and have a four circle model, because it's inherently complex. That's the reason we're talking about this today is if you're saying, "I feel bad that my family doesn't get along," or, "I don't know why, when we end up in meetings together, we're maybe raising our voices." Maybe you're raising your fist. That's not unheard of.
And the reason is our families are something we care so much about. We want to belong more than we want safety. We've studied that from a neurological perspective.
We also don't say everything we should or could to our families. And here's why. This list that was studied by the Aspen Family Business Group is we don't communicate everything, because I don't want to hurt your feelings.
I know. I know my family members my entire life, at least the ones who are older than me. There wasn't a day that I existed that they didn't exist. Now the ones younger than me, not my whole life, but probably their whole life. So we believe we know how our families are going to respond.
We also don't want to overly burden our kids, and our adult children don't know how to ask their adult parents for things because it feels like it's imprudent. It feels like it's reckless. And the last thing is distance. Often, these family companies have holiday parties that everyone attends and several other aspects. So it's complicated, what happens next with our families.
And so what we do is we try to go along to get along, and we might not say everything we need to until something happens, right? Transition, succession, aging, new roles. And now, we can't help but talk, but we maybe have spent our whole lifetime avoiding these conversations, or having our parents act as intermediary. If you want to cast your mind back... And you're all adults, I know on this webinar, to the first time you got in a fight with one of your siblings. And you probably remember a time in which your mom or your dad made you apologize to them. You didn't want to. You did it begrudgingly probably. And that in family companies happens a lot, still, for years. And we don't sometimes learn how to conflict resolve with our siblings. We're used to someone else supporting us in that endeavor, and that can be challenging.
The other reason that family companies are complicated... Also, if you haven't seen the Q&A chat function in here, please ask me your questions. You have my entire attention. Yes, we're going to do a webinar, but I want this to be useful for you. So ask the question if I'm not talking about it.
But the other reason communication is challenging for family companies is it's emotional, right? Yes. Work is emotional for a lot of people. It's the reason why we care about our jobs. I get mad when people are late, people get mad at me for being late, you name it. But in a family company, there are a lot more emotions. There's also these emotional patterns that existed from a very, very long period of time.
There's something in our brain, a pattern in our brain called associative regression. It means that we revert back to the way that we were at certain periods of our time. So if any of you've gone to a high school reunion or college reunion, you probably remember going to that reunion, either drinking a lot more or a lot less than you do today based on who you were then.
So our brain kind of creates these patterns that we can recall as though they're today, based on the last time we were together. And our families, it's often our high school versions of ourself. It's before we joined the company or before we went to college.
So you have these patterns of anger. I might have an older sibling who picked on me and I might be angry about them, or I might be anxious when I'm around them. And I might feel shame around my parents when I make a mistake. And those patterns are really old, and they last for a very long time.
So imagine a company that didn't have my family members in it where I didn't have these 20, 30, 40 year history of these emotional patterns with them. I might be able to handle bad news better. I might not respond as aroused as I actually am at the time. Same thing with anger levels, right? If I were at a company that didn't involve my parents or my siblings, I might be able to not get upset when I hear this kind of information. But in this case, I'm so used to being angry at my family, that it's hard to come down from that.
The other reason it's complicated besides these emotions... And I can send a worksheet on this. We're going to have a few resources after that you'll get as follow-up on these emotions. There's a worksheet where you can work through these, because it's actually good to have anger. Anger is boundaries, motivation, and direction. It's same thing to have, shame is good. That's knowing that we're all perfectly imperfect. So the idea that we don't have emotions in work is kind of BS. In fact, until the late '80s in non-family companies, that was considered the holy grail of not being emotional at work. And since then, we've realized that emotional intelligence is really great.
The problem with emotional intelligence in the workplace that you have your family members in, is you end up not being your best critical thinker, your most calm version of yourself, because families are inherently anxious systems. And they're anxious because of what I said at the very beginning. I most want to belong at my family. I work at EisnerAmper. They're really good at decking us out with all this EisnerAmper gear and I love to wear it, and I do love my job. I love the company here. But if EisnerAmper let me go at one point in time, that'd be fine. I'd get another job. If your family lets you go, well then where do you belong? And belonging is actually our deepest need. Like I said, it's higher than safety.
And so that's what makes this incredibly challenging, because we're anxious, and we want to belong. And it is so important to us, that we've in fact spent our lifetime not communicating effectively, because we're afraid of saying the wrong thing. And now stakes get raised.
And then the other reason that these family companies are challenging is we're balancing that family and that enterprise needs. And we're constantly balancing that, right? Maybe my brother is the best person for the job.
But I've been competing with him my whole life. So enterprise wise, Johnny should definitely do this. Family wise, I'm not going to feel as even with these kinds of things. So we're constantly managing those two things.
The other things that makes this complex, I talked about the life cycle of individuals in the family. In fact, all of us are not the best version of ourselves before we're 35. Related to family dynamics, which we're going to talk a little bit later.
But the company has different phases, right? The company had some entrepreneurial phases. Maybe it's you, maybe you just started your family company. Maybe it's your parents who started it, where they have some experience, but they're kind of winging it. They're making up the rules as they want. I use the example of they're not having shared decision making, every day is a new day.
And at some point in time, they invited other people to join them in this company. Probably not their adult children yet, because their adult children were still young children. So some of you weren't in the company when it became durable, but they invited other professionals. So now, it can't be all my way all the time. I have to be slightly more predictable for other people, because we are collaborative, even though I'm probably still running the company myself.
And if you're watching this webinar, you're likely in this legacy phase of that family company, where that founder, or that entrepreneur, or that generation is saying, "You know what? I want to step away." And the research shows that in the lifecycle of companies, this legacy phase, you can either gain, drain, or stay stable.
And draining is often a bad thing. Staying stable is okay, right? But it does mean you're going to do things the way other people had it for you. You might innovate a little bit.
And this last part is this gain. And that's tough on families in companies for various reasons, because sometimes that gaining means innovation, and sometimes there's a tension between innovation and legacy or history. And what happens when you're navigating that with your parents who you probably do respect and love, even though they drive you nuts, is it feels bad for them too. It almost feels like they did this wrong their whole lives.
So one of the things you're going to want to do in this conversation when you're trying to innovate is remember that you do have a respect for that history, that the skills that got them there to the successful company that's even ready to transition might not be the same skills needed to take it to that next level.
And that's one of the challenges we have when we're managing these conversations is we forget that it's not just what we say, it's how we say it. Sometimes when I'm saying this is a new idea I'm excited about, what the other person on the other end is hearing is, "You did everything wrong forever, and I can't imagine that you actually ran a company." Now sometimes you may mean that, probably less than you think. But every time you're saying it, it's coming out.
I mentioned we'd talk about the family life cycle. So imagine in your brain that three circle model I talked about, which is family, enterprise, ownership, and let's add the fourth circle here, individual. We already talked about how there's the business circle that has these life stages that are very different. And now we have these individuals with these life stages that make up the family.
Right now, the first time ever where five generations are working in the business nowadays. People are living longer. Good, great. We might even get Gen Alpha in the workplace pretty soon. It might be six at this point in time. But more than those five generations, which you've probably heard a ton, a ton, a ton about, I want to talk about adult developmental stages, just the way we talked about company developmental stages a minute ago.
Adult developmental stages have this young adult thing. Young adult is not teenage YA books, but young adult is about 25 to 35. That's where I said that some family stuff is not going on here. From 25 to 35, I'm trying to figure out who I am. I'm trying to also find my partner, have my kids. And sometimes, the only way from 25 to 35 I know how to do that is just to say no to you. I don't want what you're about, how you're about it, etc. So that's where I'm at. It's kind of complicated for families.
It's also complicated because you might not be as involved in the company as you want to be. And you might not be as involved in the company as you want to be, because a lot of my clients who are in LMC are on other boards. They're in YPO. They're active in the LMC programs. There are all these things that they're doing to also make a name for themselves.
So sometimes, the thing you say at this point in time is no. So those of you on the call who are the adult parents of children this age, you know they're not asking you for advice. And in fact, they're never taking your advice or at least admitting to taking it.
Then you have this other stage which is about 35 to 45, which is really trying to stand on your own. There's still a little bit of a no. But usually when you're asking your parents for advice, you might take it half the time, some of the time, quarter of the time. And this stage, there's this tension between creating and also focusing on yourself. You might seem self-absorbed.
So in these first two stages, 25 to 45, sometimes the answer is not now. And this is often the time in which people are making succession decisions. Are we going to have a next generation? Are these people as involved?
And the thing I can tell you now is do not make that decision during these timeframes, because the people involved don't know enough yet, because they're going through these predictable life stages that are asking them to come into the conversation differently.
And then a maturity is 45 to 55, technically 65. And we stop studying people after 65. They're working on changing that of course, but the people at that stage are really saying, "Hey, let's build a legacy. Let's give this away. Let's mentor, let's do all this stuff that we weren't doing."
So there's a tension between how we're communicating. Because when I'm 25 to 35, I'm secretive, I'm holding things in, I'm trying to skyrocket my own success. And when you have the next generation or the elder generation coming in saying, "Why don't you collaborate with him or her? Why don't you share all this stuff?" It almost seems like they're speaking completely different languages. And in fact, you are.
Here's some other reasons why there's emotional dynamics. Birth order, right? You've probably read about birth order, eldest sibling is type A and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Now however true that is or isn't, doesn't really matter. What's important in a family company with birth order though, is that you had different versions of your parents. You had different versions of your parents because sometimes your parents had more time as you got older, and that meant your younger siblings got a more available parent, who maybe they showed up to their ball games. It also means that usually there was more money. In that entrepreneurial phase of that company we talked about, there's usually less money. A lot of my clients call it the cash generation. The older kids are the cash generation. The younger kids are the platinum card generation. Because if we didn't have cash when I was younger, mom and dad couldn't buy it for me. But when you were younger, they could just put everything on the card.
So you in fact had different parents. So what happens sometimes in family companies is there's fights about if mom or dad is right or fair. And the truth is you can't win that fight, because you had different parents, because they were at a different life stage, and the business was at a different life stage.
Differences in education. Some people went to college, some people went straight into the company. That's one of the conversations I have with lots of the LMC clients I work with is some people did go to school, some people worked in the company, some people have advanced degrees. And in some ways, those things aren't meaningful. They don't make you better or worse, but they are different, and we have to negotiate those differences without making them better or worse.
Because I could argue, and there's some research that shows working 20 years in the company, not going to college can give you a lot of education that doesn't exist. I can also show you some research that says how a college degree can impact the company. And the short answer is it's literally 50/50. And what we tend to do because families are competitive systems, is we try to use those all as our point system in our head.
Family size and house rules. Each one of us now has a different family size and different house rules, even though we maybe came up from the same house rules. There may be favoritism. Believe it or not, science has proven that everyone has a favorite child. Yes, yes they do.
Now, your parents will never admit this. Some do. I've had some clients who admit this. But the research says your favorite child is either one, the most like you because you really, really like yourself. Or two, the one least like you because you really admire the skills and talents that they have outside of this.
And so favoritism doesn't go away. In fact, the feelings of favoritism and family companies continues for forever. My one brother who got more advantages over me or my one sister who seems to always get more money from mom and dad, because maybe they spend more than the others. It could also mean that they might need more than you. You might've been seen as self-sufficient.
Inside or outside of the family employment. Like I said, some people go outside of the company, and think that makes them a better leader than those who are in the company. And again, the research is 50/50.
In-laws change the system. So the moment people start getting married, we have different values. Sometimes religions change, people convert based on that. And the scapegoating. The scapegoating is that one person is responsible for all the bad things.
These are some diversity components I won't spend a lot of time on. But when you bring in in-laws, you start changing the shape of the family. I don't have a client today that doesn't have different religions in their families. Some are Catholic, some are Jewish, some are Protestant, some are agnostic. But religion's changing now. 10 years ago I'd meet a family and I'd ask them what their religion was, and it was the same religion. "We're still going to the same church." Same thing with race. Your partner might be of a different race or a culture. And of course gender does matter. But this is another complicating factor to families.
And this is the last one. This one, we're going to spend a little bit of time on, but addiction, right? Many transitions that do fail even with interventions from family advisors like myself, the 20% that do fail, fail because of an addiction, right? One in eight people have addiction issues in the United States. In family companies, it's one in four.
Now that doesn't mean that there's something wrong with family companies. It just usually means that there's a little more access to those types of things. Belonging, as I mentioned earlier, is such an important factor in families. And that depends on the person who's in the position to decide if they belong. Conflict patterns. I might be conflict avoidant. You might be expressive about conflict. So every time we come in the room, it looks meaning problematic.
And let's just talk about conflict patterns for a minute. Someone who has high competing or high conflict is just begging you to engage with them. They really just want to talk about it, even at a million volume. So it's a high need. And it's actually a need that says, "I trust you and you trust me enough that we can say everything." Now it doesn't mean I trust you enough to take your opinion on how we do this, but someone who's conflict avoidant doesn't trust you, and sometimes they don't trust themselves in the room with you, and that's why they avoid it.
Now, that person also feels like a high conflict person is in their face, and it's abrasive. But a high conflict person who's engaging with someone who's avoidant, it feels like they don't care enough. And so you can see on two sides of how we naturally behave, there's different opinions of that, and there are three other styles in between. There's total of five conflict styles.
Culture. This is your own family's culture, which is very different than culture related to ethnicity, right? Each family has their own language. My family, my mom is... And she always says she wants the thing, by the thing, by the thing. And my sister and I know exactly what she's talking about. She means her purse in the foyer on the credenza. My brother and my dad, no clue. They have no idea what Pilar says when she means that. And so the culture where you warned your partners the first time you brought them home of, "Don't talk about this, do talk about this, definitely avoid this subject." That's what's there.
We also have different work habits. Some of us are up early, some of us are up late. Some of us work really hard. Some of us are the people who have our phones on us all day, but are never in the office. And these work habits at a company, when I came in a company that is not a family company, we negotiate that. I might negotiate that in my contract, that I'm not going to be in the office so often. In a family company, we don't usually negotiate that early on. And so those are things we start to make meaning of.
There's also triangulation. You're going to get a handout for most of these, so I'm going to skip some of this. But I'm going to talk about triangulation, because it is the most challenging in family companies. Every person in the world has a relationship with someone else, and we call these dyads. They're two person relationships, and these are inherently unstable. They feel nerve wracking at times.
And so what we tend to do is we invite a third person into the conversation, either directly as an intermediary, or indirectly as in after the fight that I have with Johnny, I go talk to Stacey about it.
And this is rampant in families. In fact, there are times where families completely exist on it, right? You remember the first time you wanted to go have a sleepover when you were a kid, and you asked mom and she said no, because she asked all the right questions. She's more attached to what's going on. And then you called dad, because you knew you could probably get a yes really quickly. That's an example of triangulation. We do it even now.
I might know that to talk to my older brother about this subject, he's going to ignore me. So I might talk to my sister about it, because my sister can ask him, and I might get a good answer out of it.
Triangulation is completely utilitarian. It makes sense that we use it. And, it actually stops us from interacting one-on-one and working through things. It allows issues to fester as we go on.
And then of course, sibling rivalry. Like I said, families are complicated systems, and they're complicated because the way that I got attention when I was younger was to do something to get attention on me. So I'm the youngest, pick on me, but it shows up to my clients the same way. My eldest sister was very attractive, very tall. I'm very short, and so she got to be the pretty one. She modeled for some time. My brother is older than me as well, and he's really funny. He is super funny. So he got to be the funny one.
So there wasn't really much left for me. I got to be the short, dorky one. I got to be a nerd. There's no accident that I'm good at academics, because it's how I was seen and how I made space in the world.
The challenge with that though is when I'm actually at a company and I have real skills to show that have nothing to do with who's pretty, who's funny, who's studious, we might still play those roles and we continue to play those roles, and they get in the way.
This is a normal family. Let's call it a normal family. You have a mom, dad, and two children. In the US, you have 2.5 kids. Each ring creates a system. Your parents act a way together that they don't act with you. There's a version of them you never see.
And then the first child came in. That's what I was saying you had different versions of the parents, and the third child came in. And there are still days where we don't all act exactly that way.
And this is another reason your family company might be complex. In fact, 70% of my clients right now are in a blended family, which is exactly what I just talked about before. But now, you have a stepparent, and you have an ex parent, and you have a stepchild.
Why this is really challenging is it takes six years for siblings to create teams after the age of 12. And if you're good at math, you just realize that that probably happens to almost no one. And it probably happens to almost no one because most of us go away either to college or work at 18. This is the reason why twins are freakishly close. They're freakishly close for various reasons, but the main one is they became a sibling team.
But imagine being a stepchild in a family system. And I showed up at 16, or 20 in some cases, or eight. Whatever the age is, it's going to be almost impossible for step sibling or half sibling to be able to make that sibling team very, very easily. And that's what we're asking. That very, very first slide that I showed you was we are owning or managing this company together. We are becoming a team.
The difference is, and a different company that's not a family company, and the difference from what your parents did who started the company is they picked their team. They went and picked Joe, and Stacy, and Johnny, and Steven to be a part of their team. They found them after rigorous interviews, after lots of training. But in a family company, you were just born. You just became part of the team, whether you were picked or not. And some people have feelings about that and resent that.
So this one tool, if you do nothing else, will change how your family engages. Will it fix everything? It won't. But usually when clients learn this, what they do is see a very distinct difference in how they engage with one another. This is called acknowledging and validating.
Now, acknowledging and validating is not agreeing, although it might sound a lot like agreeing. So acknowledge and validating, one of you says, "This is the most boring webinar I've ever been on in my life." And I'll have to get over my hurt feelings. But then what I would say is, "What I hear you saying is it sounds like this webinar was not at all what you expected. And given that situation, I can understand how disappointing that is." That's exactly what I said.
Now knowing me, I don't think I'm trying to put on a boring webinar, but that's okay. Someone else is bored. What I didn't say in that acknowledging and validating was I 100% agree, this is the most boring webinar ever. But what I did do is acknowledge their position and validate their emotional response.
And it might seem like lip service, and it's only going to sound like lip service if you do it really snarly. You can acknowledge and validate like a jerk. But there's some research on listening. There's not a lot of research on listening, but there's a little research on listening. And what it says is that bad listeners are bad listeners, but they don't feel heard.
So the moment you start acknowledging and validating with this, and you can say, "Sounds like," instead of, "What I hear you saying is," is that person feels heard. And believe it or not, this is often the first skill that I teach client families, and I do it really annoyingly. You actually will sit with me in a two hour meeting, and I'll make you all do this and go around. And sometimes I'll pick the things you share with each other, because people don't want to share tough things. But believe it or not, people's shoulders go down. They do start behaving differently because they can hear each other.
There is something called the closeness communication bias, which has been studied by neuroscientists that say because I've lived with my family my whole life, that first slide that we talked about where we already know what people are going to say, that I do start ignoring them. I discount their opinion.
The other part of this because I just did the first part, is you would want to pause and say, "So it sounds like this was a frustrating experience for you, you didn't enjoy it." And I would then pause and then I'd say, "Did I get that right? Is that how you feel about the webinar?" And the person says yes. Or they might say, "No, actually. I really think it was boring. What I wanted you to do was more activities." And then I'd say, "Okay, so you were not engaged in the webinar because I didn't give you an experience to have activities. Did I get that right?" And then they usually say yes.
But before you let them go, you want to say, "Is there more with that?" After you finally got it right. You want to try to use their words as much as you can. You're not creating your own language for this. You're trying to use their words, one because they can hear it. Because sometimes, people and families don't know that they're actually snapping at you all the time. So you can also say, "What it sounds like is you're really frustrated at me," and they might say, "No, I'm not."
And then ask, "What happens next? Do you want to fix it? Do you want me to fix the webinar now? What do you want to do?" Or do you want advice? If your sibling is coming to you for advice relative to engaging with your family and you name it.
And then you want to keep it on them. Because what often happens in families is, "I want to give you some feedback. You are late every day and you leave early every day. And I believe that means you don't care enough." So if you're acknowledging and validating, you would say, "So it sounds like you don't believe I spend enough time at work because I come in late, leave early. Did I get that right?" And we go through it and we go through it, and we finally come there. And then you say, "Okay, do you want me to give feedback to you?" And I may say, "Yeah, okay."
And then the feedback would be, "Well, here's the reason I leave early and I leave late, and I'm actually on my cell phone all night long. And that's how I take orders for our clients. So I am still putting in 20 hours a day." That may be what they ask for, but they may say no. They may not want permission.
And so what happens in these acknowledging and validating conversations is our conversation volleys get lost. And that's going back and forth between each other.
So what tends to happen is I give you feedback about being late. You maybe will hear the feedback. Probably you're fighting the feedback, right? You're not acknowledging and validating, you're not hearing it. But then what's going to happen is, "Fine, I was late. I am a late person. But you know what you don't do? You never pick up when clients call and need order is taken ever." You then come and launch into me. And so what happens is we're never having a direct conversation about the one issue. We're in some ways still competing over who's better or who's worse as this goes on.
And I know this seems silly. But if you could actually practice this really disciplined in your next interactions with your siblings, you'll see... Or your parents, your cousins. It often shows up in siblings more. You will see a difference. This is probably a terrible analogy, but I don't know a better one. Nobody likes to kick a puppy.
Now, you shouldn't be kicking animals, period. But if you do kick a dog that's snarling at you, and growling, and it wants a bite back, it might feel more justified. But if you kick a puppy, and I know you wouldn't because you're all good people that's just sitting there, that's being sweet, and just kind of like, I think falls over. That's what would happen if you kicked a puppy. There's nothing else to do. It's over.
And so in some ways, this isn't turning over. Same thing, right? I'm probably not going to change my style of webinars. Sorry, my bad, or your disappointment. But what I will do is acknowledge that your perspective from your viewpoint is valid, right? And that's very different than agreeing with your position. But what it allows us to do is take down some of those emotional components. It allows you to feel heard, and it allows me to get some information that I might want to do something with. So this acknowledge and validating is an incredibly powerful tools for families.
The other reason we sometimes have misunderstandings is because we behavioralize things differently than other people do. I use this example. There's an article I can send you that describes this further, this model further, but most families have the same values. In fact, out of 12 values, 12 to 15 values that families have, about eight of them are the same. We just have them in a different order.
And that's really powerful to say that we actually have a lot more common ground than you would think. But it looks different, because we don't usually use values language. "Yes, you have a values vision mission. I know LMC has helped you with that. Awesome, good."
But that's not what I mean by individual values. Individual values are very different than this, and the things that motivate me are very different than other people, right? Believe it or not, I'm not just a nerd because I like to be a nerd. I'm motivated by a motivator that's called societal, which means that I'm a nerd for you. I don't want to just learn everything. I want to learn stuff to help you understand things, so you don't have to spend a lot of time learning it.
But someone else might be a nerd for the sake of being a nerd, and they just might want to be an academic. And there's nothing wrong with that, but they might keep their information secretive. So everyone's motivators are very different.
What I see in most of my longer families is there's a contrast between stewardship and return on investment. Those are different motivators. One is called individualistic, and one is that societal I just mentioned. And they're not by themselves antithetical, but they can at times, when you're deciding about people and pricing.
And so you have these family members who are motivated by things that can be kind of two sides of the same coin, but they tend to believe the bottom part of believe, that they're actually fighting with each other. They don't see that as a symbiotic relationship and have conversations around how to both get the highest price, and make sure employees are motivated.
And the last two are beliefs and our behaviors are what we see. Our beliefs are the words we actually speak. We don't often speak in motivation language. We don't often speak in values language. And our behaviors are what you actually see me doing every day.
So one of the reasons with families that we again stop talking, is we don't actually know what our siblings and our parents value. We don't actually know what motivates them, but we do hear their beliefs, and we sometimes don't agree with those beliefs that are spoken. And we see the behaviors, and we again sometimes don't agree with those behaviors. And we've decided that we're further apart than we actually are. And like I said, eight out of 12 values, 75% are similar in families.
This is another tool for you to use. This is what happens with every human ever in life. I'm actually going to take a little sip here, and hopefully some Q&As come in so I can make sure we've addressed your emotional dynamics.
I can tell you one of the emotional dynamics I see with other companies that I've worked with an LMC, is there seems to be anger around things. And anger usually means raised voices and raised intensity. The difference between someone who's actually angry, who's trying to communicate those boundaries, motivation, and direction, and the people on the other and of the anger, is that the anger is saying there is something wrong. And for that person, they're pushing it outward, because they want you to join in the conversation of how to fix it. But what it can feel like to some people is they're actually blaming you for what's going wrong, and that's where we're using this ladder of conclusions.
Because we don't have all the information. When someone behaves poorly, whether they yelled at you, or snapped at you, or cut you off, we have a biological reaction. In 0.07 seconds, something happens to my body based on our behavior. So if you guys are telling me I did the worst webinar... And you can chat that too, tell me this sucks. I don't care. It would be nice to know that of the 150 ish of you that some of you are actually here. I'm going to have a biological reaction. Maybe my chest feels tight or my heart races, and that can mean many things.
In fact, biologically, chest tightening and racing can be anger. It can also be excitement. So our bodies aren't terribly sophisticated. This is why everyone keeps talking to me about meditation. It's to try to get in touch with your body.
But then I'll have a feeling about it. I will feel maybe sad, or disappointed, or angry. And after I do that, I'm going to make stuff up. You see on that side there it says making stuff up? I will literally make something up. I will make up that you come to work late every day and leave early every day because you think you're better than me, because you think your job is more important than mine, because you don't care about me or the family. That's the thought that gets married to the belief and the conclusion.
But we don't actually know that any of that's true. We don't check in. We haven't had an acknowledging and validating conversation. We haven't seen why people do that. But I can think of 1,000 reasons why I would come in late and leave early. I might have children to go see... I would probably be with clients. I'm actually in Chicago now because I'm with clients. I don't necessarily need to be in the office.
And this is the thing with families and these old patterns, because we were actually mean to our siblings. Every single one of you was mean to your siblings at some point in time because of sibling rivalry. Like I said, we're all trying to make space. And so I was mean to you for probably 16 years, right? Teenage hormones are the worst. And when you're a little kid, you're also mean to each other.
So today, when I do something to you, when I'm not being mean, it's really hard for you to believe that I'm not doing this to be mean to you. And so most of the conclusions we're making about our family members are not terribly charitable.
So that might be the other thing you would do when you use this latter conclusions. First, in the making up section, ask how true it is. The other thing you might want to do is add in, what would be a generous meaning, interpretation, or assumption I could assign to this? And what you're going to want to do is switch out your sibling's name or your parents' name with your best friend's name. Your name and best friend. You're not going to pick someone out of random air and you're not just going to say, "My best friend." You're actually going to say, "If my best friend James was late every day to work and left early every day to work, what would I think, or believe, or come to a conclusion about him?"
And that's when you can then take that emotional conversation. I showed the emotions at the very beginning of this. This is the reason why families get so tough is, because when we get emotional, we probably do yell. Sometimes we cry. The emotional expressions are what make us uncomfortable. Not the emotion itself, but it's the expression of the emotions that gets really tough for people.
So what you can do after you've done this ladder of conclusions, try to give your most generous assumption about your brother, or your sister. Pick a gender. One of them pisses you off. Both of them maybe, but you work with them, and you might own the company already with them. Most of my clients from LMC actually do already own with their siblings. It's happened already. You are in this forever. So you can either hate it or change that you hate it.
You go through this, you put together your most generous assumption, and physically write a list, and write a list of all the reasons they might've done this. And that's when you're going to go to have the conversation with the acknowledging and validating that you talked about before, where you bring it to them and say, "Johnny, I have observed." You want to use observational language. This is not about them. "I have observed that it seems like," because you're holding out suspicion that it's not true. "I have observed it seems like that you're not in the office very often. And because of that," this word is also important. "I imagine." And I know it sounds corny, but it's helpful, because then it doesn't feel like a judgment, because you're making up this story. Because we know you make stuff up. This has been studied.
"I imagine you are not in the office you’re about the rest of us, and that's why you're not here. And I'd like to talk about that, because it makes me feel angry," or sad, or whatever. That's the way you're going to talk about it. So you're going to say, I observe, seems, I imagine, and I feel. Those are the four components of this conversation you're going to have.
So what that means is one, you've admitted you've made up a story. You're actually asking them for help. You're trying not to judge them yet, and you're giving them an opportunity to explain what happens next. And that's where you're able to have a conversation that makes sense.
Now, the first time you do this is not going to go well, because your sibling doesn't yet... Or your parent, but let's say sibling. Your sibling at this point in time does not understand You're changing the pattern, and there's this chemical pattern between you guys since you guys, before you could talk, right? Usually two, three, whatever, when you had a sibling. So it won't be magic the first time. It'll be a little bit less and it'll be a little bit less. And at some point in time, you are the puppy, and they're not going to kick you.
They may also start changing their language. If they haven't watched this webinar, they're probably not going to. If they haven't had a facilitated process with us where we all agree that this is the way you're talking to each other, they probably won't yet either.
But the good thing about those circles at the very beginning of this is there's a system, it's a family system. And each person who makes a small change in a family system of call it five people, each one makes a 2% change. Two times five is 10, right? 5% change for each person, 25% change in the system, is the whole family system can change with just a few actors.
And sometimes, the parents decide not to change. And sometimes, not all siblings decide to change. So in that family of five, only two people are changing. But two people can still change the system.
And that's the thing about emotional intelligence or neuroscience. We call it sometimes enthalpy or limbic resonance is it's catchy. Believe it or not, that when one person behaves one way, the other person can't help it.
Someone just asked a question, "Have you got a diagram for mom and eight children? How about G3?" Yes, I have tons of diagrams and resources I can send you. I think you have my email now about this. This is a general webinar. I'm also happy to have a conversation with anyone about this.
It is complicated, and it's complicated for various reasons.
And these diagrams are really helpful. I know these are all pictures and they probably seem like grade school, and they're very colorful and silly, but it's a lot easier to graphically describe what you're going on. We can add in diagrams at certain ages too, and we can overlay that with roles, potential roles for succession and so on and so forth.
A couple of people said that triangulation was such a horrible thing. People go back to their suspicions with one another. We have to. I have a neuroscience background. Our brain is designed to help us survive, and that's really important that our brain actually helps us survive.
It is called the oldest organ, right? So it was around back when there were saber tooth tigers, and saber tooth tigers can kill you pretty quickly. Our brain is still on high alert from then too. It's the reason why you feel anxious when you pass dark corners. And so our brain is trying really hard to protect us.
And that part about belonging I think is important, because I love working with family companies. I'm working with family companies my whole life, and I'll continue to work with family companies, because you can always work at any company. You can always make more money, but you have one family.
And the thing about families is I know you want to belong. That's what it says. And in the process of trying to make yourself feel safe in your family, you're actually increasing distance more than intimacy. And in fact, the handling the intimacy and giving each other the generous assumptions, all those things that we don't necessarily need to do with the outside world is the way that family companies can become powerful, and they can actually become protective of themselves versus protective of each other. Let me see.
Yes, someone mentioned that we go back to our suspicions when there's any type of pressure involved. That's anxiety. I mentioned anxiety is one of those emotions, and families are inherently anxious systems. So yes, the moment the pressure's on.
So if you did do facilitated work with us, one of the things I like to do is we play a game called Pandemic. I haven't played it that recently, because there actually was a global pandemic recently. But it raises your stress levels enough, and it's fun, and it's silly that you can have the same amount of stress, but with less high stakes to understand how to deal with high stakes.
I was just facilitating with a client last week using mousetraps. Literally had people take off their shoes, take off their socks, blindfold their colleague or their sibling, and walk through this mousetrap to understand if we really trust each other.
That is the other challenge about business is in a family company, all the stakes are high. We don't have the choice, right? The family company creates the wealth for the family to succeed. And that's a lot of pressure, and it's a lot of pressure to do with multiple people, with multiple decision makings, and with a history that was so long, that we have to reacquaint ourselves. We call it updating our assumptions about our family, because we're carrying all this baggage from... I kept talking about teenage years and young years. That's all in our brain. It's encoded. So we're trying to update our assumptions to who we are today.
And I do love my family. I don't have a family company with them, but I have bought houses with different siblings, different times, and we've sold them off for various reasons. But I would hate to think that my relationship with my siblings is predicated on who I was 10 years ago, five years ago. Shoot, honestly, two weeks ago.
And so it is constant. You could say that you do this once, and you start acknowledging and validating for one year. But in five years it could all blow up, because it's a process that you have to continue to understand that you're growing and changing with one another. And updating those assumptions, updating that language, updating those partnership skills as it goes on. Facilitation helps at first. But really, the family has to build that skillset. And it is uncomfortable at first until it's much more comfortable.
Any last questions? Because we're just about out of time. Cool. I think that's it, Astrid.
Family Business Webinar Series | Part II
Family Business Webinar Series | Part III
What's on Your Mind?
Natalie M. McVeigh
Natalie McVeigh is a Managing Director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance and the Center for Family Business Excellence Group within the Private Client Services Group and has more than 10 years of experience as a consultant and coach.
Start a conversation with Natalie
Explore More Insights
DOT Weighs in on Budget; Two Proposals Relate to Nonoperating Foundations and Payout RulesRead More
Adapting to Market Volatility: Tax Strategies and Alternative Investments for Family OfficesRead More
Receive the latest business insights, analysis, and perspectives from EisnerAmper professionals.