Is it Possible to Control Your Emotions with Other Family Members?

Business Leader Post, May 16, 2013

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Yes! But it is hard work.

Professionals like to call the emotional component of family businesses the “soft side.” Believe me: there is nothing soft about the emotional intensity of being a family member in a family owned business. And there is nothing soft about disagreements between family members. Family members’ habitual, ineffective behaviors towards one another can be as intractable as concrete. Some families have learned to let those “rocks” bounce, shrug it off, and keep moving. Others can’t.

Tension producing interaction can occur in one another’s presence, through emails or by hearing about an upsetting incident. When you are interacting (at the risk of oversimplifying an antidote) employing the “count to ten /take deep breaths to capture a more relaxed state before you respond” rule will help. The rule is based on the reality that one can’t be tense and relaxed at the same time. Responses that come from a state of tension will never be as clear or effective as those that come from a calm state. I suggest that instead of sending an angry e-mail or responding to something you have heard, write your response/feelings down, wait 24 hours and do not send it. Talk to the individual the next day. Start the dialogue with questions to make sure that you have the facts straight before you respond.

The most dramatic example of self-control involves five brothers who co-owned a trucking company. They called me because every board meeting ended with a fist fight. I started the meeting with the statement that if anyone touches one another, the meeting will be over. (Given that they would have to pay my bill either way, I have to acknowledge that there was an additional incentive.) Sure enough, five minutes into the meeting, the aggressive brother stood up, red faced, and started walking around the room, snorting and grunting. Finally after about three minutes, he sat down. We all stood and gave him a standing ovation.