Resolving Conflict

Family Business Survival Guide: How to Maintain Healthy Relationships In a Family Business

I grew up in a now 3rd generation family business and married into one on its way to generation 5. While most don’t make it past the 2nd generation, no other organization in the world is more prominent than family businesses—and they are on the rise. According to the US Bureau of the Census, about 90% of businesses are family owned or controlled, and they account for 78% of all new jobs. Coupled with this steady resurgence, businesses in today’s times are built on relationships more than ever. This seems to explain why the complicated dynamics of family business have been showing up on my therapy couch more than ever, and an increasingly hot topic nationwide.

What are some tips for those involved in a family business, directly or indirectly? How can families maintain their family bond amidst the often tricky dynamics of running a business? How can family members best deal with emotions that can arise when members feel a threat to their power and place in the family, or their self esteem? There’s an entire field dedicated to guiding families and their family firms. For the scope of this blog, here are 4 proactive ideas to consider gleaned from my experience in organizational development, family counseling, and more personally, from across the kitchen table.


Family businesses are best viewed by the systems in which they operate. While families make up their own system—as do marriages, businesses, and bodies of governance—family businesses are typically comprised of multiple and overlapping systems. So the first step in keeping the relationships healthy within the family, and the family business, is to establish clear boundaries between work and family. This requires more deliberate effort than most realize. It’s not typically an organic separation.

We each tend to have a functional and emotional role in the family, whether based on birth order, personality, or the communication/emotional system that governs the family. Family members working in the business also have a task and emotional role, but not necessarily the same as in the family. Family roles must not be confused with work roles.  If they are, then festering sibling issues can land smack onto the boardroom table, day in and day out.

For the founder or current leader of the business, it’s essential to select partners and employ family in positions based on objective criteria, not on birth order or the roles they play in the family. Furthermore, you’re never going to attract top people if the top jobs always go to a family member. Look what happened to Falstaff Brewery, a once thriving family business who always gave the top job to a family member. When it comes to business decisions, they must remain separate from the family.

This difficult but essential distinction, and many other sensitive issues that naturally arise, can make balancing multiple roles quite a challenge for the senior members— who are typically not only boss, but Mom, Dad, Aunt or Uncle. I love the story of a business owner who kept 2 hats in her office, one with BOSS written on it, the other with MOM. Depending on the topic of conversation, she would pick the appropriate hat to visually indicate the type of conversation about to ensue, sometimes switching hats in mid stream.

A final aspect of keeping work and family separate is the concept of encouraging the next generation to follow their passion. Incoming members must really find themselves and achieve success outside of the family business environment. It’s important to have a sense of grit for one’s achievement and to make sure the family business is a fit.  There are trade offs that must be considered and one’s own true path in life must be honored. I’ve seen many join the family business out of obligation or approval seeking, which only grew into bitterness and depression.  The unconditional love within the family, and trust in each person’s ability to choose their path, must be well established to allow each member to make a true choice.


To create clear boundaries and roles, and to create a healthy emotional environment, families that have good communication skills fare best. Many times, long-standing poor family communication, or lack thereof, naturally bleeds into the business as well. Unfortunately, healthy communication inside families is not necessarily the norm, both in quantity and quality. That is, too many families don’t schedule family meetings, engage in active listening, attack the problem not the person, handle conflict with diplomacy, spend one on one time together, and/or seek counseling.  

This tendency for weak communication in a family makes the urgency even greater for family business owners to create a culture that prioritizes building better and more frequent communication. Typically, it’s recommended for family values to form the foundation of the family business culture. If not already in place, healthy communication, and handling conflict with diplomacy, is one family value that should most definitely be added in. See more on communication in my previous blogs Tricky Conversations with Sensitive People and Transforming Anger into Growth in Our Relationships


Fostering healthy communication, aka managing painful and perpetual conflict, prompts many successful family business owners to seek outside family council. When I say successful, I don’t just mean just fiscally. True prosperity means having it all: thriving business; positive, creative work environment; safe and respectful family and non family relationships; an element of soul in the business valuing giving and unity, versus taking and every man for himself.

One of the biggest mistakes made in family businesses is trying to navigate all facets internally. When moving away from the one tier mom and pop shop and into the next generation(s), outside advisors and consultants can add great value with issues related to finance and strategy, roles, communication, emotional dynamics, entry requirements, recruiting the next generation, compensation, succession planning, divorce, and more. It can be hard to let others in, but objectively wise— and can ease up the jealousy and tendency for members to take things personally.


Family businesses have another system that has great influence on all of the others, and that is they are an emotional system. Emotions are not the problem. In fact, emotions can offer a vital and positive contribution to logic when making decisions best for the long term. But only when a person is self aware. The key is to develop a relationship with our emotions that allows them to be the messengers of our inner truth, rather than in charge of our emotional reactions.

Aggressive, reactive individuals have not developed the pause muscle or learned how to turn inward to sit with and understand what they’re really feeling and why. Rather the tendency is to react outwardly to try and fix a painful emotion instantly. We all have emotionally reactive tendencies and these can certainly become triggered in family business dynamics.  All the more reason why investing in greater emotional intelligence, (i.e., greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-regulation; empathy with others, listening skills, and emotional diplomacy) should become a top priority, for families and for family business success. True prosperity, especially for a healthy family business, requires working from the inside out.


Hilbert-Davis, Jane and Dyer, W.Gibb, Jr.  (2003), Consulting to Family Business. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Protect Your Relationship From Holiday Stress: The 4C Approach To Closeness

“We almost break up every year after Christmas,” my client announced. “We go to multiple Christmas’s, and at the end, we’ll declare (if we’re not breaking up) ‘next year we’re leaving town.’” The holidays can be a loving, joyous time for couples, and yet, they can run our stress high and patience thin, trigger old family issues, highlight our different needs and approaches, and quite honestly awaken the “what about me” consciousness. All this can add up to a massive wedge in our most important relationship. 

Sometimes our greatest angst comes from the gap between our expectations— the “should be’s”— and our reality right in front of us. Difficulties and unmet expectations are not only normal, but an inherent and valuable part of our “growing upward” in life.  We become better, stronger from the challenges we face, especially when we own them! We create deep fulfillment when we dive into the darkness and bring out the Light. And anyone in a deep and lasting relationship should know the hard earned and quite miraculous process that it takes for two separate souls to un-peel their ego layers to become one.

Preparation is key for couples to navigate their relationship during the holidays, and this starts with a commitment to going into the holiday as partners. Many outside forces can invade your togetherness but the more you prepare, the more protected your bond will be. I like to suggest openly identifying the potential sources of strain or conflict that the holidays might pose.  COUPLE EXERCISE #1: Take a look at this list below and scope out any hot buttons. Then use THE 4C APPROACH to strengthen your partnership. 

List of Potential Stressors

  • Increased work load, feeling overwhelmed and not clear about how to divide and share the added tasks 

  • Socializing differences (I don’t want the party to end vs I can’t wait to go home)

  • Loyalty to your family and pulled about dividing time among each side, and step families

  • Differences in culture, religion, or spirituality

  • Emotional pain and lack often stirred up from childhood making us more vulnerable and reactive

  • Certain people we are anxious to be around, like In laws or parents or siblings

  • Financial strain and different values on how much do we spend on gifts/food  

  • Alcohol and the need to talk about consumption 

  • Additional compounding life challenges like illness, loss, financial bills or work uncertainty

The 4C Approach to Closeness During the Holidays

1. CONSCIOUSNESS: Take Control of Your Holiday, Don’t Let the Holiday Control You

I learned from the great Kabbalist, Rav Berg, that “consciousness is everything.” Meaning, the seeds we plant with our thoughts and intentions directly influence what will grow and manifest. The first limiting thought to challenge is, “I don’t have control over my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.”  Catch this one quickly and replace with, “I create my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.” Let’s take the client I spoke about earlier, who has made great strides in claiming her power. She now approaches the holidays as a spiritual growth game. Her intention has moved from how can I change my family or get them to love me to how can I see the good, be more compassionate and learn to listen. Further, how can I wake up and first thing, appreciate my partner.  I love this story of taking control of your holiday, your relationship…your life. 

2. COMPASSION: Accept Yourself, Your Partner, Your Reality With Love

Acceptance and compassion go hand in hand, and paradoxically, they provide the best platform for making personal changes and inspiring others to change. To embrace and be with your self, your beloved, and your unique reality together— with acceptance and trust that for good reason, you need to be here in this moment—this opens your heart, and you can just feel the lightness pour in. If you’re feeling heavy or emotionally reactive, a pause is a must. Sometimes that means stepping away from your partner, taking a shower, going for a walk, looking at the sky, sharing in some way—these can all shut down the limiting force of the ego and make room for the bigger picture. Set your intention to awaken compassion within, beg if you have to, and do for yourself that which brightens your soul. I’m a huge fan of self compassion.  As Louise Haye says so well,  “Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself.”

3. COLLABORATION: Go Into the Holiday as Partners  

When we choose to invest in a committed relationship, our lives become interdependent. Our togetherness becomes an entity. If one partner’s gain puts a hole in the galley, then the whole relation”SHIP” goes down. This puts us in a vulnerable position, because we must create a oneness when we often have divergent needs or desires.  But this is the beauty in the dance of love and intimacy—navigating our own individuality alongside our growing capacity to care more for the other’s happiness than for our own.  Taking it one step at a time, we can use the holidays to begin negotiating and taking turns when our own dreams and desires don’t line up.  This collaboration can center around conversations (be careful they’re not “controler-sations”) on the following kinds of topics: 

  • Effectively sharing and negotiating the additional workload common during the holidays

  • Respectfully considering the traditions and values from each partner when creating your own

  • Balancing the religious and spiritual meaning and practices associated with the holiday

  • Showing care and support when our partner’s are stressed or emotionally vulnerable. “This means being supportive, even if you think his or her perspective is unreasonable,” (Dr. John Gottman) 

  • Being sensitive to personality differences when it comes to attending parties and gatherings 

4. COMMUNICATION: Calmly Make Sure Both Are Heard

One of my favorite communication exercises to do with couples in my practice is the Dream Catcher by Dr. John Gottman.  It’s a turn taking, structured exercise that with great practice and self control can become more integrated into how we relate to our partners.  Rather than pushing our point, calling the other out in some way, the focus is on creating a safe haven of authenticity where each partner feels seen and heard.  The listener spends around 10-15 minutes asking questions like:

  • What do you feel about this issue? 

  • Is there a story behind this for you? 

  • Does this relate to your childhood or background in some way? 

  • What do you need with this issue? 

  • Tell me why this is so important to you? 

  • What do you wish for?

  • What would be your ideal dream here?

  • Is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored? having this dream honored?

  • Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you?

COUPLE EXERCISE #2: Pick one of the hot buttons that stood out from the list of stressors above and take turns being the speaker and the listener. The problem might not be solved, and that’s okay.  The purpose is to care enough to catch one another’s real dream and desire. Many need a counselor to help prepare them for this level of listening. You’ll know you are ready for this exercise as a couple if after your heart is filled with love and you feel closer.

Below is the FOx2am show on this topic; and here are 2 links with communication resources. Communication and fighting fair tips, and more about the Dream Catcher.

Sibling Rivalry or Sibling Bullying?  When Does it Cross the Line and What Can Be Done?

Sibling Rivalry or Sibling Bullying?  When Does it Cross the Line and What Can Be Done?

So much attention, rightfully so, has been paid to bullying in the schools. Yet family researchers have recently found that bullying inside the home can actually cause as much or even more damage to children’s mental well being—even into adulthood. 

The Competitive Couple: How to Avoid this Toxic Dynamic

 The Competitive Couple: How to Avoid this Toxic Dynamic

Whether it’s about who does more or who makes more, or maybe it’s who works the hardest or who is in better shape. The bottom line is that while couples yearn to come together as one, the human ego has a pesky way of allowing competition to invade the safe haven needed for love to deepen and grow. Here are some common competitive scenarios I hear about:

Family Estrangement: Why Children Cut Off Their Parents and Tips for Healing

 Family Estrangement: Why Children Cut Off Their Parents and Tips for Healing

Some splits between parent and child come from something sudden or dramatic, but most broken ties develop gradually and stem from misunderstandings and less extreme, albeit hurtful, interactions. Let’s talk about what hope there might be if you are estranged from your parent or child. Here's what I recommend…

Should Kids Come First? Keeping Your Marriage Strong While Raising a Family

Should Kids Come First? Keeping Your Marriage Strong While Raising a Family

When a new couple reaches out for help, almost without exception, it quickly comes to light that the problems in the marriage, in large part, stem from this repeated proclamation, “Well, the kids have always come first.” Now here they sit on the counseling couch, and to some degree in a marriage run empty with one or both feeling neglected, unloved.

Holiday Cheer vs. Holiday Fear: How to Go Above the Overwhelm

Holiday Cheer vs. Holiday Fear: How to Go Above the Overwhelm

We are all faced with a myriad of challenging life circumstances, enough to make anyone feel anxious, insecure or overwhelmed. The truth is, we are not here to simply live a life of stillness and stagnation. To taste real satisfaction and freedom, we are here to overcome, grow and transform. So how do we deal best with times of great stress and stay connected to joy and peace along the way?

Master Your Thoughts, Master Your Life

Master Your Thoughts, Master Your Life

Here are a few truths and facts about the impact of what we allow to dominate our minds— drawing from both science and ancient spiritual wisdom. Then we’ll bring this into practice, with tips and suggestions for taking charge of our mindset.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I’ve created a checklist to inspire you to ask yourself some important questions — 7 about yourself, 7 about your partner/relationship. This exploring process is to awaken awareness, action and personal growth — through which greater clarity will likely unfold. I draw these exploratory questions from my own marriage journey and my work with couples, which have both been profoundly enhanced by what I have learned about relationships from the wisdom of Kabbalah.

How to Approach Tricky Conversations with Sensitive People

How to Approach Tricky Conversations with Sensitive People

As counter-intuitive as it might feel, we benefit greatly from challenges — especially once we ACCEPT AND EMBRACE FRICTION as a tool to grow stronger within ourselves, to become better people and ultimately to build the real love and unity we so yearn to share with others. Here are 7 tips and considerations when approaching difficult conversations with sensitive people (or sensitive conversations with difficult people).

How Happy Couples Deal with In-Laws: Tips for the Holidays... and All Year Long

How Happy Couples Deal with In-Laws: Tips for the Holidays... and All Year Long

Inherently tricky to navigate for many, in-law strife shows up most especially between mothers- and daughters-in-law. And pouring into the mix the degree of conflict and division from our unprecedented election year 2016, the views and dynamics among all family members- especially in-laws, makes for quite a vulnerable time. Here are some tips to help make the holidays and this relationship go more smoothly this year, and from now on.

Election Stress Disorder: Tips for Mental Balance and Relationship Harmony

Election Stress Disorder: Tips for Mental Balance and Relationship Harmony

While this election season has stirred up an especially bitter brew of indignity and conflict, one common bond crossing the political and gender aisle is the election stress. The American Psychological Association just released a new survey indicating that more than half of American adults are either very or somewhat stressed by the 2016 election.

Raising Teenagers: Staying Connected

Raising Teenagers: Staying Connected

Teens need a healthy attachment more than ever during this trial and error phase of life. The more we stay close and connected to our teens (not to be confused with hovering or controlling), the better we can support them emotionally. Through our attachment, we equip them with a compass as they find their own truth and strength, and decision making power. 

Transforming Anger into Growth in Our Relationships

Transforming Anger into Growth in Our Relationships

The key is being proactive and not approaching any conflict from a victim mindset. Rather, see it as a perfect opportunity for growth. This empowered consciousness and approach will begin to eliminate a huge component of what makes us angry in the first place — helplessness.

How to Get Along with People Who Rub Us the Wrong Way

How to Get Along with People Who Rub Us the Wrong Way

We all have people in our lives with whom we find it difficult to get along.  In many cases, we can simply avoid them.  However, what if those we “don’t like” are people we just can't get rid of? Like a sibling or parent, or hey what about those in-laws; or maybe it's a coworker or boss, or member of a community in which we are deeply invested.  We might wish certain people away, yet the truth is, people we have a hard time getting along with—they are in our lives for a reason. We don’t want to miss the learning opportunity that these challenging people might present for us. Explore this growth-oriented paradigm as a first step in navigating the process of trying to get along. 

Turning Friction into Closeness: Soulful Ways to Address Conflict

Turning Friction into Closeness: Soulful Ways to Address Conflict

Our married partners tend to hold the license to trigger our buttons like no one else can. The truth is that most of society doesn’t understand what it takes for love to be lasting and fulfilling. We are good at one, or the other. But both lasting and fulfilling — this becomes a perplexing enterprise.

Hope for Couples Facing an Affair: DOs and DON'Ts

Hope for Couples Facing an Affair: DOs and DON'Ts

There is hope for couples facing infidelity. The Key is EFFORT, HONEST COMMUNICATION, PATIENCE and WILLINGNESS TO GROW!  When an affair becomes discovered it often serves as the beginning of a vital growing and healing process, for each individual partner and for the relationship itself.  Many come out of the infidelity crisis stronger and more committed. While I don’t recommend affairs, a majority actually survive the affair.

News of Celebrity Breakup Stirs Deep Questions about Marriage and Divorce

News of Celebrity Breakup Stirs Deep Questions about Marriage and Divorce

While we may not be able to identify with living the life of a movie star, this couple’s relationship journey has awakened deep questions we can all relate to — about one's own relationships, how and if we can sustain a happy marriage and how to save one that is dying.