Everyone has heard about arguments in Family Business. Relatives in the business are all together to make key decisions. Two are deadlocked in a toe-to-toe shout-down with one saying, “I’m right!” and the other resolutely insisting “No, I’m right!” Perhaps yet another is trying to jump in with “Look at my idea!” The meeting agenda has dissolved into a process of Ready! Fire! Aim!
There is a tried and true way to end this, and here is an example. We are a group of five colleagues working together. We need to have dinner but would like to continue our work. One colleague asks the others, “What does everyone want to eat?” Instead of naming restaurants, they listened to all comments and agreed on the following:
- Must be suitable to continue our conversation over dinner, so that rules out a noisy place.
- Must be within 3 miles radius, so we don’t lose momentum in our progress.
- Must be able to seat five guests at 7 p.m., since that time suits everyone present.
- Must have selections on the menu that will satisfy one person who is mostly vegetarian.
Notice that there is not high “ownership” for any of the criteria. After we do a quick survey of restaurants nearby, soon one or two stand out.
The operative word is ownership. So often in family business differences are grounded in whose idea is being discussed rather than what is the idea. In the Little Red Book of Family Business it says, “An Idea doesn’t care who has it. It (the idea) has no opinion on the bearer thereof.” It is preferable to establish the criteria and then list the range of options that might be worthy of consideration. Each option is measured against the criteria, not against who proposed the idea. By eliminating the attachment to the ownership, the option proposed gets considered on its own merit. The decision gets made by the criteria, thus reducing the ownership of the idea. It is much easier to come to agreement on the criteria first, then look at the alternatives.
Learn this and teach this. If your family discussion is starting to get bogged down in argument, maybe it’s time for dinner? If the circumstances don’t allow your group to go out to dine, use the same method to determine the criteria for ordering in. It’s a process that can replace ownership with courtesy, consideration, and anticipation.
David Bork is an internationally acclaimed family business consultant, author, and speaker with five decades of experience, providing guidance to over 500 family business enterprises. A pioneer in the industry, David brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into the many challenges of running a successful family business and has assisted families in navigating their way through every imaginable family business issue. He is the author of The Little Red Book of Family Business and the online course, Re-Imagining Relationships for Families in Business. For more information about David Bork, visit FamilyBusinessMatters.Consulting.