Trick or treat!

David Ransburg
David Ransburg

Americans celebrate Halloween on the last day of October, and neighborhoods are filled that evening with the children’s chorus of: “Trick or treat!” While children typically receive a treat in response to their request, there is, nonetheless, an implicit threat of harm or mischief if no treat is granted.

Do adults grant treats because of the threat? I suspect not. As one who grants these treats, I can tell you that I do so not because of “trick-o-phobia,” but because I want to do something nice for my neighborhood’s children. I’m surely not alone when I say that I’d give out just as many treats (with just as much good cheer) if the customary phrase became simply, “Treat?” Practically speaking, I believe that’s how most intend/interpret the phrase anyway.

What does any of this have to do with family business? In my experience, family businesses provide members with many opportunities for both consequences (“tricks”) and rewards (“treats”) and occasionally the tricks and the treats go hand in hand. “I’ll take on that unpleasant work assignment, but only if I get a company car.” Or: “I’ll give you a company car if you take on that unpleasant work assignment.”

Holding someone ransom or delivering an ultimatum is never productive, mainly because it establishes the two parties as adversaries rather than allies. Perhaps family business members can become more allied by borrowing from the children of Halloween: more treats than tricks.

And, just like all the children know when they examine their Halloween “loot,” focusing on the treats leads to an outcome that is very sweet.


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