Ask Dr. Tom: Dealing with Uncomfortable Family Business Questions

Ask Dr. Tom:
Dealing with Uncomfortable
Family Business Questions

Understanding the Family Business
September 1996

by Thomas Davidow
Genus Resources Inc.

Question: My sister and I recently had a lengthy discussion about some problems between us and since then things have been going better, but there are still troublesome issues that I have never shared with her. Should I talk to her about these occurrences or should I let sleeping dogs lie?

Answer: Even Rip Van Winkle woke up. If an issue is bothering you, by definition it has not gone away.The discomfort needs to be addressed. Because no one is perfect and no relationship is perfect, it is not always wise to constantly try to “resolve” every issue that occurs between people. It is, however, important to be able to talk openly with your sister.

My advice is to first tell her how much you welcomed talking problems over with her and that things are better.Then tell her that there are still a few past problems that you would like to tell her about. Make it clear that you do not expect her to respond nor do you need to talk about these outstanding issues. Communicate them as examples of why you had been upset and to get them off your chest so there will be no “unspoken secrets.” Then thank her for listening.

The hidden agenda is to develop the skills needed to talk with each other about difficult issues. I guarantee you that there are new issues developing as I write. It is inherent in all family businesses.