In my work with small-business owners, I observe family members working together. Significant others, parents and children, siblings—it doesn’t matter, the challenges are the same.

My wife Nina and I worked together for the 29 years we owned our business. We got better at working together as the years went by, often with outside advice. Here is some of what we learned.

When at work, we were two professionals who worked in the same company. We were not family members.

That clarity meant we were not airing out our dirty laundry in front of those we worked with. I see this happen with some who work together, often a parent and a son or daughter, where patterns that should have been discarded years ago are brought into the work place. Clear boundaries allow everyone to be more productive and satisfied.

To help create and maintain our boundaries, we needed to communicate effectively. Listening better was the key.

Struggling to understand the other person’s perspective shows respect for them. My experience was that the harder it was for me to understand what I was hearing, the more likely it was good for me to “get” it. This meant slowing down and considering what was being said.

Remember, you are two people who happen to work at the same company. Treat yourselves as you would treat any fellow worker.

Dealing with Conflict
All relationships, including the professional ones, come with conflict. Less is better than more but there is always some. Get clear about what is the cause. Talk it through.

Nina and I met outside the office once a week. It was usually over lunch. Food makes relationships work better. We would share our respective perspectives. Then we would do one of the following: agree on a compromise or agree to disagree. Either way we dealt with the differences in our opinions.

And life went on.

A Balanced Life
We each focused on different aspects of our lives. Nina focused on our family and I was more focused on our business. Nina was good at living a balanced life. She worked 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. When 2:30 p.m. arrived, she left the building. I worked longer days and sometimes on the weekend.

My challenge was to get more balance in my life. I did that by scheduling activities that prevented me from using the time to work more. One of those activities was taking walks with our sons. Ultimately I was working 45 hours a week when I was in town. I was gone four months of the year, doing a combination of personal travel with Nina and professional work.

I had to accept Nina’s decision to work a maximum number of hours. I ultimately did, and I was inspired by her choice.

To be productive in a professional relationship, the family members need to agree on the personal goals that their business is to help them realize. The clearer those folks are about those goals, the harder they will work. And they will work together better.

Every year, we would meet a couple of times in the late fall and early winter to come up with our personal goals. We would lay them out in for the coming year, five years and 10 years.

Many of the goals had a frequency attached to them, such as X times a week. We met monthly at home to review progress. Those conversations kept us on track at work.


How to bring this to life in your world?

What I am suggesting is not complicated. Simple changes made over time add up. Be clear about what needs to change and start making different choices.

As an employer you would be well-served using much of what is offered with all those you work with. Inspire your employees, don’t demotivate them. Doing so makes all those in your life, at home and at work, happier to be with you.