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Edition 321- Withheld Conversations

I was thinking about my paternal grandmother recently. The tall, thin elegant woman, who started out life as Ortencia Martinez and who was led to believe she was born in Barcelona, but I’ve since found out it was Liverpool in the UK, passed away in 2006 at the age of 93. The body that once was a model for the Farmer’s Department store in Sydney in the 1930’s, finally gave out.

Nana Linda, who led a long life, bore two sons, married twice (but it may as well have been thrice thanks to the love and patience of a man named Keith) and was a grandmother to five, died as passionate and stubborn a woman as she’d lived her life.

Through family turmoil over the years, my two cousins did not keep in contact with her. Their parents had divorced and Linda’s opinions about their mother could not be kept to herself. My own brother and sister rarely reached out to her, nor she to them. I was, in essence, the one and only grandchild that maintained our relationship. Until the day I stood up to my father’s incessant bullying and violence at his brother’s funeral. I stepped over the mark, in her eyes, by standing up for myself.

For five months after his death, I checked in with her. She’d lost her eldest son, something a parent should never experience in their own lifetime. Each time I made contact, the conversation was short and the excuses for ending it were many and varied. She missed my birthday in March, something she’d never done before, as first a card, then a phone call never eventuated. Attempts to visit her were discouraged. In short, I was being ostracised for my behaviour.

Sometime in June, after yet another attempt, I resolved to let her make the next move – and it never came. Sadly, she spent the last eight years of her life with very limited family contact. Her determination and strength ended up being her weakness. However, I had to accept that in spite of my best efforts, that was her choice and we’d all be the poorer for it.

 The thing about family business is that it’s an emotional environment.
 I’ve been in the room when spouses communicate in the most abrupt manner with each other, something they’d do in their own home when it’s just the two of them, except I was the fly on the wall watching it all happen.

I’ve watched old lions and young cubs almost come to blows as they can’t reconcile that it’s their differences that are actually helping to drive the business forward – but their lack of willingness to accept those differences is potentially ripping it apart.

I’ve observed mates in business, whose friendship led them to that place, lose the emotional attachment in their relationship as it morphs into purely a functional one – until the loss of their personal relationship impacts their business one.

As in most families, in most family businesses, there’s lots of withheld conversations. Things that should be said, but never are. Like:

“You’re doing a great job.”

“I’ve got your back.”

“I understand your viewpoint and accept it, even if I don’t agree with it.”

“I couldn’t do this without your support and love.”

“Thank you for helping me get through this last period.”

If only those of us in family business could remove our blinkers for a moment, park our biases to one side and say the kind of things that are usually left unsaid until one in that relationship is no longer around.

This Week’s Tip

“The depth of the emotional relationships inside family business can make those businesses
and those relationships stronger…..or tear them apart.”