SAT 30TH MAY 2020


Bringing the family business community together

Watch Your Tongue

29th June 2016 Wayne Rivers, Family Business Institute Inc

Be careful what you say and how you say it around other members of your business family. You may inadvertently be speaking with a forked tongue.

Family businesses sometimes have a language all of their own and often what is said is not heard, or at least, not the way it was intended. 

Strangers to family companies aren’t necessarily attuned to recognize some of the terms, stories, and built-in code phrases which have grown to be parts of the family or business culture over the years. But you better believe that insiders are highly aware of that unique language – both spoken and unspoken.

There are some phrases family members commonly use which can be counterproductive or even downright noxious especially when they’re used between senior and younger generations where there is a distinct power imbalance. The items below are some examples of terms and language – to all appearances, harmless on the surface – which successful family business leaders should avoid.

Senior generation comment: "That’s the way we’ve always done it here.”

What the younger generation hears: “Remember who’s in control of this business, don’t forget it, and don’t try to change the way we do things.”

Senior generation comment: “Some day all this will be yours.”

What the younger generation hears: “I know I’m not giving you any real responsibility, but if you’ll just be patient and wait ten or fifteen more years, I’ll throw this company in your lap with no real succession plan and you can sink or swim with it.”

Senior generation comment: “I’ve built this business from the ground up, and I’ve done all the dirtiest jobs there are to do. Your training should be the same as mine when I came along.”

What the younger generation hears: “Your education and work experience outside this company are meaningless. We’re going to operate and manage this company exactly as we did when it was the entrepreneurial company I started. Whatever education, experience, and newfangled ideas you might have on how to manage this business are unwanted and unneeded here.”

Senior generation family business owners rarely mean harm when they make throwaway comments and “do things like they’ve always done them.” However, they must recognize that it takes an entirely different set of skills to manage a $20 million company than it does to create and operate a $2 million organization.

Second and third generation family members should be given respect and an open, nonjudgmental forum in which to air their ideas on how the company should be run in the future. They should be allowed to contribute freely and openly towards developing a future vision of the business. Squelching the input of interested, ambitious, and dedicated subsequent generation family members (including in-laws) is a prime example of how some family business owners win the battle but lose the war.

Be careful what you say and how you say it around other members of your business family. You may inadvertently be speaking with a forked tongue.

About the Author - Wayne Rivers is the president of The Family Business Institute, Inc. FBI’s mission is to deliver interpersonal, operational and financial solutions to help family and closely-held businesses achieve breakthrough success.   Visit their website here



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