Jun 30 2017
Truth isn't a magic wand in family business

Truth Isn’t a Magic Wand in Family Business

By Jared Byas, Partner & Family Business Advisor

Two years ago I sat down with two sisters and a brother who were on a treasure hunt. They were convinced that this treasure would be the key to their happiness. What’s more, it would be the key to the problems they were facing as equal owners in their 85-year-old business.

What was this treasure? The truth about what “really happened.”

The truth about what “really happened” 20 years ago, that one time it seemed like you were giving your side of the family preferential treatment.

The truth about what “really happened” 10 years ago, that time I saw you take the company truck to run some personal errands.

Lastly, the truth about what “really happened” 3 years ago, when you let your son and his friends use the shop over the weekend.

Truth Isn’t a Magic Wand

These three people were absolutely convinced that if they could find out what “really happened,” all their relationship problems would disappear. The irony of course is that what “really happened” varied depending on the person talking. Very quickly, we had to name two really important realities:

First, it’s almost impossible to get back to the truth of what “really happened” once the event has passed. Time waits for no man and that includes those who want to dwell on the past.

Second, even if we could get back there, why do we think the facts would resolve the emotional pain and tension we have felt ever since?

“The Truth” & How We Feel About It

Fast forward 2 years. Instead of spending time and energy going on a nearly impossible treasure hunt for the truth, we had put our energy on other things. We focused on other important initiatives that actually had a chance to help us move forward together. These included:

  • Dealing with our current emotions about past events. That is, we can ask ourselves, How am I feeling now about what happened 10 years ago? And then we can communicate it to the others involved. “When this event happened, I felt this way. And I still feel that way.”
  • Learning to communicate better. We want to get better about sharing how we feel now, so that we don’t have to try to solve a 10-year-old problem, 10 years from now. That is, we may not be able to always go back and solve the problems of the past. Instead, we can choose to move on and work hard to avoid the same problem in the future.
  • Meet regularly to practice good communication. Talking about how someone has hurt us or angered us in the midst of the normal workday is often a bad idea. But, if you have a place to meet regularly where those honest conversations are expected, it can go much more smoothly.
  • Talk about ways we can avoid misunderstandings in the future. That might lead to the need for clearer roles in the business, a shift in compensation, or other important structural changes.

Moving Forward

Does getting back to past events sometimes help us move forward? Sure. But so many times this just isn’t possible. And when that’s the case, we have two choices. We can either give up or grow in our resiliency to improve ourselves individually, and collectively. For those who want the latter, these might be some good tools to consider.

I’d love to hear from you. I invite your comments to

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