Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room

The natural mingling of personal and business interactions and decision-making in a family-owned business adds emotional complexity to every stage of the family-business life cycle. The communication and relationship dynamics between family members who are also co-workers or co-owners can result in unconscious or unspoken, often highly charged, emotional undercurrents that lead to conflict provoking behaviors.

These dynamics eventually become embedded in how the business operates and how family members interact at all levels. If ignored — like the proverbial elephant in the room — a very large problem that is ever-present, yet disregarded — these dynamics become obstacles so overwhelming that they can capsize the business and/or split the family apart.

Many family-owned businesses simmer with these obstacles yet rarely address them openly. Because of their emotional character, few people are willing or able to communicate about them — hence, they are “silent.” Over time, they can produce serious inertia to growth and change, eventually undermining even the best of business plans and a family’s hopes for enduring family harmony — as a result, they become “barriers” — silent barriers.

Elephant face represents avoidance of the difficult and sensitive family business issues