During the holidays, what is the best way to handle family business discussions?

December 21, 2015

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

The easy and obvious answer is not to discuss the business. All advisors and most family members who are in the business would agree. So would family members who are not in the business--they are bored by the conversation and feel excluded, which does not make for “holiday cheer.” 

Nevertheless, my answer is “forget that.” Asking members of a family business not to talk about the business whenever and wherever they gather is like asking someone to go into a corner and NOT think about pink elephants. It can’t be done. So do not set yourself up for failure.

I remember coaching my daughter’s basketball recreational team when she was in the 6th grade. I could get them to focus for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then they would just drift into “chatting,” for lack of a better description. It became a huge power and control struggle between me as “coach” and my team. I lost every time. I decided to break up the hour-long practice into 15 minute segments with 10 minutes of drills and five minutes of “chatting.” They had their needs filled, and I had 40 minutes of their concentration on the task at hand.

There is always something to share and something that has not been discussed between and among family members who work together. Limit the discussion to a “catch up” type of agenda. I suggest that you acknowledge the reality that you will inevitably discuss the business and agree on a limited amount of time during an agreed upon lull in the festivities to have your “catch up discussion.” Then let it go and enjoy yourself and your family.