How Come Brothers Have Such a Difficult Time Working Together in the Business?

Business Leader Post, November 15, 2011

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

The struggle between brothers is the theme of a number of Bible stories, including Cain and Abel as well as Joseph and his many-colored coat. The field of psychology calls it sibling rivalry. (It includes sisters as well.) It is part of our makeup. It is in our DNA. It cannot be avoided; it can only be managed by the siblings. Over time, with the help of age and life experiences, siblings tend to let go of the past and embrace the present. Most brothers go on to live independent lives. Their relationship has a sense of obligation attached to it, but I would say that the relationship is ultimately one of choice.

When brothers work together, their relationship goes beyond obligation—they have no choice but to relate to each other. They are forced to by the circumstances of their business. The experience is not stress free. All the unresolved issues that they have not yet addressed not only surface, but also intensify, making the relationship difficult.

The challenge of resolving their issues have more to do with the absence of communication than the emergence of any specific issue that might drive the stress. Men/brothers use achievement to satisfy their egos. They do not define themselves by their relationships. They are not very good at communicating and do not seem to have the skills to figure out their differences. Consequently, minor issues that go unaddressed build up over time until the “critical mass” of those issues can create so much tension that that the conflict becomes a distraction from the business. The first step in dealing with the problem is to recognize that there is one.