How to Have The Happiest Holidays In Your Family Business!

JoAnne Norton
Jo Anne Norton

Having Happy Holidays!

This year I’ve been asked for tips on getting through holiday gatherings with family members when some of them are actively working in the business, some are owners who might not be particularly happy with profits this year, and some are family members who are neither in the business nor owners. Should discussion of the family business be considered off limits?

There are a couple of problems with talking about the family business at holiday family gatherings. First of all, many businesses have lots of jargon and expressions that other family members might not understand. One member of a highly successful multi-generational family told me that when she was with her family and they started talking business, it was like being in a foreign country with a language she didn’t speak or understand. So if you bring up a business concern you need to be aware that you might be starting a conversation that others can’t relate to.

Also, you have to think about the impact of the family business conversation on the children, especially since this has been such a tough year economically for most businesses. What you say this holiday season might make the next generation reluctant to consider joining the family business even decades later.

On the other hand, we have to recognize that it’s tough to completely leave the family business out of the conversation. In October my cousin Barb had our annual family reunion on a gorgeous fall day in Quincy, Illinois, and I had the opportunity to talk to my Uncle Merle who was a second-generation owner, along with my father and my Uncle Louis, of our family’s business. He was reminding me that when the three of them were in the family business they were only off one day a year together and that was Christmas. My uncle told me about one Christmas when they were standing around drinking eggnog and talking shop when my mother asked if there could be just one day a year when they wouldn’t talk about business.

Uncle Merle said that my dad patiently explained to Mom that the company was always top of mind, and that he and his brothers really loved talking about it so much he hoped she would understand. That’s why having empathy-the ability to understand and share the feelings of another-is one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other this year. If you are the one who wants to talk about business, think about the feelings of your other family members. If you are the one who would prefer to have a day without mentioning the business, consider the feelings of those who are always thinking about the business and enjoy talking about it.

Beginning with the end in mind, you want your time with your family to strengthen family relationships. The latest Price Waterhouse Coopers research released at the beginning of November confirms what I’ve found in my own work with family businesses, and that is: if the relationships in the family are healthy, the business is more likely to be healthy. Here’s to happy, healthy relationships throughout the holidays!

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