(503) 222-6678 - Portland, Oregon
(360) 256-0448 Vancouver, Washington


ADD in Adults
Parenting a Child with ADD
Coping with Anxiety Disorders
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Overcoming Depression
Managing Stress
Conquering Fears & Phobias
Overcoming Social Phobia
Couples at Work & Home
Dual Career Couples
Families in Business
Recognizing High Conflict Divorce
Conflict & Communication
Couples at Work & Home
Love, Sex & Intimacy
Maintaining Strong Marriage
Dual Career Couples
Advice for Singles Only
Alcoholism Recovery
Stop Smoking
Weight Control
Headache Relief
Holistic Health
Managing Blood Pressure
Releasing Unresolved Stress
Am I a Good Parent
Blended Families
Gifted Child
Coping with ADD/ADHD
Adoptive Families
Gifted Adults
When to Seek Help
Psychotherapy Options
Laid-Off from Work
Calendar of Events
Media Coverage
Press Center
Related New Stories
Enriching Your Live Archive
Entrepreneurial Couples Archive

Enriching Your Life!

Sign up for my FREE newsletter! Get practical tips for you and your family.

Articles - Conflict and Confrontation in Family - Business

SURVIVOR ENTREPRENEURS; Strengths lie in vision, efficiency, leadership

Thursday, March 11, 2004

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

If you recognize yourself in this short quiz, then you are probably a survivor entrepreneur, someone who overcame great obstacles to accomplish their dreams in life. Many entrepreneurs fit this profile.

For example, if you are impatient with details, it is because you are a big picture thinker. You are a visionary who can see the outcome before the average person. While the details are important in creating the outcome, without the vision, your life can become nothing but maintaining the details of life. You are impatient with details and with people who spend their days committed to details. But without those detail people, would you have anyone to help you turn your dreams into reality? Others don't really work too slowly, but it appears so to the survivor personality.

Because your survival depended upon quick action and attending to what was immediately necessary to accomplish your dream, this type of entrepreneur has honed efficiency to a fine science. Grass does not grow under your feet. Your gaze is constantly on the horizon, looking for the next opportunity or the next problem to solve.

If you're a passenger in the car (which is usually not the case!) you tell the driver to turn right at the next intersection before arriving at the intersection. It seems slow and inefficient to you to tell the driver only as you arrive at the intersection or even after you have passed it, which is what the "slow" people do. However, those slow people do enjoy the ride more than you do. For them the fun is on the way to the destination.

Your ability to do a lot of work is based upon efficiency and vision. Because you already can see where you're going and because you are constantly scanning the environment for improvements, you are a marvel at being in the right place at the right time. However, when you err, you are exceptionally hard on yourself.

Yes the survivor entrepreneur makes things happen. He or she is a bundle of energy that few can keep up with. Because of your uncanny insight and charisma, you have the ability to be a great leader too. People admire you for your talents. They want to share in your good fortune by helping in some small way.

Be aware of the important responsibility that you carry. A leader who engenders this kind of trust has to be extremely ethical. Do not assume because your charisma has won people over that those same people fully understand what they are agreeing to. You are the one with the vision. You need to be responsible to lead people where the need and want to go, not just what is best for you.

Many survivor entrepreneurs underestimate their strengths. They often assume that others have the same level of tenacity, the same ability to work hard that they do. They may think others are lazy or weak because they can't keep up. The survivor entrepreneur believes that all it takes is applying him or herself to succeed. However, it's important for the survivor entrepreneur to realize that your big picture thinking is what has made you successful, not necessarily hard work. Because you can anticipate fairly accurately what the next move should be this saves you time, energy and many mistakes.

Others who do not have this skill must learn by trial and error, a timely and more laborious step-by-linear-step process. Not everyone has this visionary ability. It is your gift and one that should be used generously and wisely. Others have different gifts to contribute that are just as valuable, but without visionary ability, they really can't so easily understand what you grasp in an instant. So take the time to walk them through what you know. When they do understand your picture, you may find that the detail person or the linear thinker has a profound contribution that you overlooked.

The word survivor is used to describe this type of entrepreneur because you have overcome extreme hardship to arrive at your successes. Some of you grew up in poverty. Some of you never knew one or even both of your parents. Some of you have overcome illness, physical disability, a poor education or learning problems to achieve the American Dream.

Some people wither in the face of adversity but not the survivor entrepreneur. He or she views adversity as a challenge, as an opportunity to prove what he or she is made of. The adversity may not be pleasant, but conquering it is a thrill. In a crisis the survivor entrepreneur is the hero.

However, it is important for survivors to be careful not to make a life of surviving. Some survivor entrepreneurs keep creating crises in their lives, often unconsciously, so that they can get the thrill of mastering the crisis. The entrepreneur may be able to handle this excitement but your family and friends may tire quickly of the emotional roller coaster.

Save the surviving for real adversity and take the time to stop and smell the roses with the ones you love. There are deep and profound rewards in the tiny things that occupy ordinary life too, if you will explore that territory. Just ask your child or grandchild to lead you to this simple life, even if only once in a while.

Don't avoid conflict and confrontation when you work with your spouse

Friday, August 08, 2003

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"I just let him handle things his way."

"We're not very good at resolving problems, so I let it go."

"I just hate confrontation!"

Listening, talking, communicating, resolving problems, making joint decisions... these are requirements for all business owners, not just entrepreneurial couples. Yet entrepreneurial couples often complain that communicating effectively with each other is the last thing they do.

Without good communication skills and quality time dedicated to communicating, relationships (business and personal) soon flounder and fail, especially among couples with the stress of two careers, or a joint enterprise, and a full family life. Moreover, the potential for a breakdown in communication grows as the complexity of the family/business system increases.

As a member of an entrepreneurial couple you are under more stress and potential conflict than others. The worlds of your personal life and work life overlap considerably, creating more intersecting points. This creates a highly complex system of constantly changing roles and rules.

Because you cannot really separate home and work, you must learn how to integrate these two worlds better. The tools you used for communicating and resolving conflicts before you worked together may just not be good enough anymore. As an entrepreneurial couple you and your spouse face dilemmas that may have never surfaced before to give you worry. This means you need to enhance your communication and problem solving skills beyond simple linear cause and effect (i.e. blame).

A major reason entrepreneurial couples don't talk is that they are avoiding conflict and confrontation. There is a common misconception that conflict and confrontation are bad. One of the major reasons entrepreneurial couples have problems is their failure to confront issues head-on. They may fight openly or quietly seethe, but they have a terrible time confronting the real conflict respectfully and honestly.

It's as if confrontation and conflict are impolite. However, conflict and confrontation are natural and healthy components of any relationship. You are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject.You are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject.

Do not fear conflict and confrontation. Because of the highly complex and interactive, multi-level system you have created as an entrepreneurial couple and family, conflicts are inevitable and actually a sign of growth. Therefore, avoiding conflict is not the goal. Rather you want to develop the tools to "lean into" conflicts and resolve them early on, so that you can reorganize your lives to include the new learning. Because entrepreneurial couples have a lot at stake when it comes to their business and their relationship, they are prone to avoid conflict or to use ineffective tools to solve the conflict too quickly. Compromising and acquiescing are two of these ineffective tools.

Most couples are shocked when I advise them to avoid compromises at all costs. After all, isn't compromise a requirement of partnership, both personal and business? The reality is that decisions that are arrived at through compromise usually lack creativity and seldom last. Sure, a compromise now and then may be necessary for the sake of expediency, but if a decision is important, a compromise may cause anger and resistance. Because compromises are usually a result of both people giving up something in order to get an agreement, the decision is a watered-down version of two stronger opinions. While it may be satisfactory to accept compromise decisions for things like choosing a restaurant for dinner, where neither of you gets your first choice but both must accept a third alternative, accepting a third, less-threatening alternative for your business may sabotage your competitive edge.

Compromise is the easy way out when you are trying to avoid conflict and confrontation. It appears that the compromise will smooth ruffled feathers and that both partners can go away happy. What really happens, however, is that each partner leaves feeling as though they have been had.

One person may resent having to compromise and will be looking for ammunition to prove that the decision was a bad one. Another person may feel he or she has done the honorable thing by not pushing his or her opinion on the other, only to feel unappreciated later when the compromise plan is dropped. If you stop and think about it, how long have your compromise decisions really lasted?

Acquiescing or forcing your opinion upon your partner are other ways of avoiding conflict. In seeking to avoid conflict, for example, a persuasive person may push his or her partner to acquiesce to a certain point of view, but this does not mean that the partner agrees. It may mean only that the partner actually does not want to fight and so appears to agree, when he or she has only given in.

Don't make the mistake of pushing to win at all costs or to acquiescing to the persuader, when you don't agree. In either case, if you are the persuader or the acquiescent partner, the conflict has not been resolved and, what's worse, may have been driven underground.

If you don't make time to talk, if you don't consider nurturing your personal relationship as important as nurturing your business, and if you avoid healthy conflict and confrontation, your partnership/relationship will disintegrate into two uninvolved business associates at the best, and into bitterness and divorce at the worst. So take the time now to evaluate your communication skills and your life/business plan. Invest in the time to develop a meaningful, loving relationship with your spouse that enhances your business relationship.

Communication can pose big challenges to members of family businesses

Friday, July 11, 2003

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

The most common problem brought into my office is that of communicating with others, a spouse, a boss or coworker, a child. No matter what level of society or what kind of job the person comes from the art of communicating so that others will listen is an art that is difficult to cultivate.

There are many reasons for this and they are amply exemplified in family businesses. First, a family is a group of members from two genders and two, three or four generations. Spicing the soup further, is added the interaction of the family system with the work environment and non-family coworkers and employees. Third, family members are often baffled by communicating with the ones they love. Isn't love all that is necessary to form a strong relationship?

As a result I am frequently asked to help members of family businesses to iron out their communication difficulties, especially the ones that have lead to an impasse at work, or to the brink of divorce, or to a feud between parent and child. Until the misunderstandings are ferreted out, and new communication skills learned, members of a family firm may stay in a quagmire of distrust for years.


The first place to start if you want to be heard is to listen yourself. But this is easier said than done. Listening is a very creative component of communicating. However, once you become good at listening, half the current misunderstandings will disappear.

One simple way to begin your education at becoming a better listener is to ask yourself "Why is he or she telling me this?"

In other words, you are looking for the meaning behind the words. People have good intentions. They are trying to communicate with you. But often their words don't reflect the in respond to this inner meaning, you must put yourself in his or her shoes and ask yourself what is the meaning behind these words or behavior?


Another step in becoming a good listener is to realize that people cannot not communicate with you. That is, they are always sending you meaningful (meaningful to them) messages if you can only learn to interpret them. So, even if you think you are getting resistance from someone, realize that this individual is telling you something that is important to them. Perhaps your grown son is not attending to his responsibilities at work, despite repeated conferences with you, because he feels that he is constantly in "the old man's shadow." Or perhaps your husband works 60-70 hours a week at the family business because he believes that by being a good provider he is demonstrating his love and loyalty to you.


After practicing nothing but listening for a few weeks, you should be getting pretty good at figuring out the other person's reality. Remember, we all live in our "maps" of reality. Your interpretation of reality is not necessarily superior to any other person's. Maps are just a convenient way to structure our lives. In figuring out another person's map of reality and responding to it, you begin to let the other person feel respected, appreciated, even loved.


In order to respond to another person, it is necessary to put your own ego aside. Listen, observe and learn the "language" of the other person. Once you begin to speak their language, you will be surprised how much they want to learn yours. In other words, the real key to learning to talk so that others will listen is to learn the art of drawing people to you. By developing your creative listening skills, others will want to talk with and listen to you too.

Perhaps you remember the short story "The Gift." The story tells of a young couple that was so poor at Christmas that they had no money to buy each other a gift. So the young man sold his pocket watch to buy his sweetheart a comb for her long beautiful hair. And the young woman cut and sold her hair to purchase her husband a watch fob for his pocket watch. The willingness to sacrifice your own needs temporarily and step into the other's world brings rewards that are deeper than a comb and a watch.

Dan and Jane had a similar problem when they came for consultation. Their communicating skills were so bad that they were on the brink of divorce even though they still loved each other. Dan complained that his wife was not supportive. Because he worked long hours seven days a week, he wanted her to be more supportive when he came home. She on the other hand, resented these long hours and the fact that she was left to manage the household and three young children by herself. By the time Dan finally got home in the evening, Jane wanted to turn the children over to Dan so that she could rest. Dan wanted the house clean and the children fed when he got home.

This couple worked valiantly at trying to break through the communication barriers, but their maps of reality were radically different. Instead of being more supportive at the end of the day, Jane planned extra social activities for she and her husband, hoping that luring him away from work, would help him relax. This only made Dan mad and unappreciative. And in order to coerce her "support" Dan would give Jane "assignments" to accomplish before the day's end, so that he wouldn't have any work to do when he arrived home. Needless to say, she got even less accomplished than before.

The solution for this couple lies in learning to understand the other's map of reality and responding to it, rather than imposing one's will onto the other person. Dan needs appreciation for the sacrifices he makes to support his family. Jane needs appreciation for the sacrifices she makes to support her family. Then they both need to stop sacrificing! A reevaluation of just what each needs and wants and is capable of creating is in order.

By listening and responding to the maps of family members, coworkers, friends and others, one improves his or her capacity to be listened to. Practice listening and determine how many different realities there are out there!

Recognizing manipulation can save the family business

Thursday, March 13, 2003

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S., P.S.

How many of you will admit that you secretly admire the con artist? Even if you have been conned yourself, don't you think that the victims are just a little too naive? Don't you harbor just a little desire to get something for nothing just as the con does? Don't you wish you could be so clever?

The truth is that the con knows that you are not so different from him or her. The only real difference is that you have created an illusion that you are different, that you would never stoop to manipulation, that you would never willfully take advantage of another person. Because you are not so different, but are in denial about it, the con swoops in and relieves you of your money, your pride or your sense of safety.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the confidence game as it is played everyday in families and family firms throughout America. Snowing the ones you love creates incredible suffering not just in the short run but potentially for generations.

If you are to learn about the confidence game in your own family and family firm, the first thing you need to recognize is that you are just as capable as anyone of being manipulative. As difficult as it is to admit that we can be conned, it is even more difficult to admit that we can do the conning. However, the mark and the con are two sides of the same coin.

To investigate your manipulative qualities, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Are you in sales? 2. Does your business require that you use persuasion, diplomacy, and charm? 3. Have you ever lied? 4. Have you ever taken advantage of another's ignorance or naiveté? 5. Have you kept something you didn't pay for? 6. Have you ever cried in order to get your way? 7. Have you ever intimidated your opponent into capitulating? 8. Have you ever hurt someone else? 9. When you have hurt someone else, did you say, "I didn't mean to do it." 10. Have you kept a secret to avoid conflict? 11. Have you ever "dropped names"? 12. Have you ever changed the subject when the topic was too close for comfort? 13. Just once, was money your only concern?

The tools of persuasion, diplomacy and charm can be used ethically or unethically. They are like a hammer and screwdriver. The hammer and screwdriver can be used to build a house or to break into someone's home. The choice is up to the individual using the tools.

Likewise, persuasion, diplomacy and charm can be used to swindle or to negotiate a mutually rewarding settlement.

If you truly want to end the con game within your family firm, you need to take a look at your own manipulative nature. Being conscious of your own manipulations, even the ones that you didn't mean to do, allows you to be ethical. With consciousness comes choice. Choosing to be ethical in your communications and dealings with others requires that you take the time to understand others and to be understood fully. There is no room for conning. The risk of destroying trust is too great.

The word con is actually an abbreviation for confidence. Therefore the con game is really the confidence game. The success of the game is to create confidence within the victim for the manipulator.

By having confidence in the con artist, we are handing over our trust, or temporarily suspending our disbelief. No matter how outrageous the con's behavior, once that person has your trust and confidence, the con artist can have their way with you.

Some of you may already know some of the signals of a scam and pride yourself on escaping. Some of the less well-known signals are more intuitive, however.

Feeling ashamed is a signal of manipulation. Feeling impressed or awed is another one. Feeling special or flattered by attention from someone you hardly know is a giveaway. An obvious clue to a con game is when there is no pay off to you. A little trickier is recognizing that you are being used when you are doing more work than the other person in the relationship. When the other person never seems to come through for you, but always has a good excuse, you can be sure you are being manipulated.

Less recognizable are the signals that you are doing the manipulation. But an easy test is to ask yourself how you would feel if the tables were turned. For example, when you hear those words "I didn't mean to, " how does it make you feel? Do you feel mad, confused, trapped? As much as forgiveness is a virtue, so is taking responsibility for one's mistakes and correcting them.

The person who uses the "I didn't mean it" con game is not taking full responsibility for their error. It's as if no wrongdoing was done if the person I didn't mean to. So the next time those words start forming on your lips, stop and make a straightforward apology for your actions and offer to clean up the problem, whether you committed the deed accidentally or intentionally.

Another way to investigate your own manipulative nature is to ask others how they feel. In a family this is a perfectly legitimate question. Because you may be hot on an idea and have charmingly persuaded everyone else to cooperative with you, does not mean they all agree with you.

Check it out. If you have bullied the others into submission, or charmed them into acquiescing, but deep down inside they do not agree, what kind of agreement do you really have? How much support are you really going to get in the long run? Do you really have your family's trust or are they just afraid of you?

Recently I met a very well known and successful businessman who is unaware of his covert con game. He is charming, persuasive and has many followers who agree with his every word, including family members. He makes frequent and generous promises which he does not fulfill. He keeps lunch dates waiting for hours. He jokes about his lack of follow through because he is such a busy man. He makes expensive propositions to others as if he is interested in partnering, yet he never puts his checkbook on the line. His behavior is so outrageous that it is amazing that others do not catch onto him. But the truth is the worst con artist is the one who believes in his or her own scam.

If your goal is to make a lot of money or to have a lot of power, and you don't care how you do it, then there is no point in your reading this article. But if you truly want to prosper as a family as well as a family in business, then it requires time to clean up the covert confidence games that are played at home and at work with the ones you love.

Resolving conflict can protect the family unit and business

Thursday, February 13, 2003

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Ask yourself who you would rather work with, a family member or a trusted friend or colleague. List five family members whom you trust and five friends or colleagues whom you trust. Of these ten people, with whom would you choose to start a brand new business?

When I asked this question recently of attendees at a trade show, the majority said they would work with a friend before they would a family member. Their reasoning is that they wouldn't want to risk alienating a family member and upsetting the entire family if the business partnership should not work out. What is most interesting about their responses is that a good 90% of the attendees were already working in a family firm!

While the rewards of working with the ones you love are many, such as the benefit of working with someone whom you trust and who will work as hard as you do, there are significant liabilities. The major one that plagues most family firms is the inability to resolve conflict constructively. This inability leads to resentment, hostility, alienation and family feuds.

Family firms have the unique distinction of blending both the needs of a family and the needs of a thriving business. While the goal of the business is growth through competition, the goal of the family is to nurture and protect all family members. As a result, family firms grow more slowly than non-family owned firms because the business growth is compromised by the need to protect family members, even those who do not really belong in the business.

Conflict in any family is disagreeable, but it is even more so in a family that also works together. Ordinary conflicts that other business owners have to deal with are submerged in a family business for fear of "hurting" a family member's feelings, or offending one's parent or spouse. The need to protect the family system, to keep this system in tact, is quite strong. All of us grew up with the knowledge that to betray a family rule was to risk the safety of the family.

Anthropologists suggest that this protection of the family system is a part of our survival as a species. We seem to have a genetic need to belong to a family where we can share food, shelter and emotional comfort with our kinfolk. Political experiments that disrupt the standard family unit usually do not last. Research is even showing that children learn better in school if educators structure assignments to better represent individual student's family values.

Given that belonging to a family is a stronger need than striking out on one's own, families tend to discourage conflict and confrontation. This keeps family members home. However, in a business, avoiding conflict can lead to serious problems. Sometimes out of conflicts arise tremendous ideas for the growth and success of the business. Wrestling with ideas brings out resolutions never before thought of and it often clears the path for junior members of an organization to show what they are made of. But in family firms, all too often conflicts get submerged rather than aired in a healthy context.

Those of you who currently work with your spouse or other family members may be thinking that conflict is rampant in your family. The problem is that the frequent fighting may not be solving anything. When ordinary conflicts get submerged as they too often do in family firms, things fester. Family members may brood or bicker but never really confront the issue head on. Sometimes there is a major blow up at the office, but this is not healthy confrontation. This is merely "letting off steam," only to have it build up again until the next fight.

Some of the signs of submerged conflict in family firms are (1) the increase in alcoholism and drug dependence among family firm members; (2) infidelity and multiple marriages or liaisons; (3) child abuse; (4) acting-out children (i.e., poor grades, suicide threats, drug abuse, numerous traffic violations, disregard for the rights of others); (5) chronic depression; (6) frequent fighting to no end.

In order to get to the bottom of conflicts, family firm members need to be brave. You need to trust that you are doing what's best for the family as well as the business by confronting family problems. Even if you have the minority view, it may be an important view. In your family and family firm there may be room for more than one view.

Confrontation need not be nasty and abusive. Confrontation is just "taking the bull by the horns." Be respectful but firm. Acknowledge that you may not be right, but that the family needs to talk. Keep talking until the family has come to a mutually agreeable solution.

Most people report that they feel closer to those with whom they have resolved conflicts. The misunderstandings that lead to the conflicts are often just that, misunderstandings, not a major difference in values. And if you discover that there is a major difference in values and these differences are not good for the business, it's best to discover these differences so that sound business decisions can be made. If a father and son really want to take the business in different directions, perhaps they should part the business, not maintain a cool emotional distance from each other in the office.

But rest assured whether a member leaves the business or not, the family goes on forever. Conflict and confrontation strengthen a family, despite the unpleasantness in the moment of unresolved dissension. While it's true that families take on different shapes and sizes over the years as children marry, grandchildren are born, founders die, even an occasional divorce, the family as an entity survives. The same cannot be said for a business. It can be sold or dissolved permanently.

One of my daughters brought home this poem by an unknown author and I think it sums up the values that any family business should be proud to live by.

Our family's like a patchwork quilt
With kindness gently sewn.
Each piece is an original
With a beauty of its own.
With threads of warmth and happiness
It's tightly stitched together
To last in love throughout the years
Our family is forever.

Addiction 'conspiracy' of silence hurts the family and business

Friday, September 06, 2002

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Every night at about 10:30 or 11:00 the fighting would start and carry on for two to three hours or more until the couple got so tired they just fell asleep. This was the culmination of a long day at the office where Joan and Jack, wife and husband, worked side-by-side running their successful business.

By the end of the workday Joan frequently wanted to stop off at a bar for a drink to "unwind" before heading for home to dinner. Jack, in a separate car would go home, relieve the babysitter, and start dinner. When his wife got home she was relaxed and cheerful, the alcohol having taken the edge off of the day's stress. Two more glasses of wine at dinner contributed to her changing personality.

As the evening progressed, Jack would busy himself with settling the children down for the evening. He didn't mind doing most of the domestic chores because he understood that Joan didn't have as much physical stamina as he. When it was time to give the children a good night kiss, he would call to their mother, whom he often found napping on the couch.

A couple more drinks later Joan was no longer napping, no longer cheerful. Her irritability was growing. Dumbfounded, Jack could not figure out why she was mad at him. The accusations started flying, defensive walls shot up and the arguing would escalate to unreasonable and irrational proportions.

Alcoholism and other drug abuse is an epidemic in our country. We are all aware of the general problem nationwide. There are numerous programs in our schools to prevent drug abuse among our youth. The courts are less and less tolerant of alcohol related traffic infractions. Celebrities have established treatment programs to sober up movie stars and politicians.

Many employers are taking a hard look at the problems caused by drug abuse and alcohol addiction. Employers recognize the loss attributable to drugs in terms of lowered production, increased accidents, lower quality work, and loss of skilled employees. They have established employee assistance programs and redesigned insurance benefits to create treatment options for employees. These programs not only treat the addict, but the family as well because it is the strength of the family that determines the addict's success in treatment.

The concern reaches to the highest levels in most companies. Whether the employee is the president or the line worker, today's employers are cracking down on drug abuse. No one is allowed to jeopardize the welfare of the company or fellow workers by engaging in dangerous addictive behavior. But the goal is not punishment. Instead, employers want to rehabilitate and return a healthy employee to the job.

Yet among family firms, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are frequently overlooked. Many people who have worked in family firms, yet are not family members, talk about the "secret" at work. The secret that everyone knows is that there is a family member who is addicted or engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, yet no one is to talk about it. The family member is protected not only by the family, but also by a general conspiracy among employees.

In previous columns I have explained how this conspiracy comes to be. The function of the family is to nurture and protect its members. This function is alive and well in a family firm, and usually takes precedence over the welfare of the business or other non-family related employees. This is a rule that families have followed since the beginning of human civilization, and therefore is not likely to change.

If there is an alcoholic in a family firm, be they founder, spouse, son, daughter, or in-law, the family is likely to overlook, condone, deny, rationalize or minimize the problem for the sake of keeping the family system in tact. If the founder is alcoholic, alcoholism may be a family "tradition" that will be hard to break. That is, drinking may be interwoven into the fabric of family life and corporate life.

Leaders in family firms have a tough job. They must weigh the success of the business against the needs of the family. Allowing addictions to go untreated is no way to take care of either the business or the family. By ignoring the problem the addict accepts this as tacit approval of their behavior. And by ignoring the problem, the potential threat to the integrity of the family and business grows. Alcoholism and other addictions leads to the breakdown of the family, just what a family firm wants to avoid.

What can help members of the family firm address these problems is to consider that the addict is fortunate to have the backing of both his/her family as well as his/her business. With the support of the two most important systems in one's life, the addict has increased potential to succeed in treatment. They have a loving family and they have a job to come back to.

Another thing to consider is that everyone in the family has to support the decision to confront the addict and to seek family therapy with them. If there are dissenters, the addict will solicit allies to defend their continued drug abuse. While it is painful to acknowledge one's own addiction, it may be even harder to acknowledge the addiction of a loved one. Often family members feel helpless in the face of the overwhelming problems caused by addiction. Therefore, the "enable " the addict rather than face the problem squarely in the eye.

To deal with the humiliation of recognizing that a family member is alcoholic, education will help. Professional treatment centers emphasize that alcoholism and drug abuse are best understood as diseases. That is, the disease of alcoholism affect the personality in ways that change the one we love. While the alcoholic cannot help that they have a disease (many alcoholics are genetically predisposed to alcoholism), they must be held accountable for their actions. They must be confronted with their irresponsible and manipulative behavior so that they can change it. With professional treatment and ongoing support, they can be returned to their former productive and loving lives.

To learn more, contact Alcoholics Anonymous. They are listed in the telephone directory or you can go to their website You can also visit to find recommended books on the subject.

In any case, if you are a member of a family firm, and you suspect a family member of addiction, do something now. You may the be the only one willing to take the risk to expose the family "secret." But once the secret is out, trust the strength of the family to meet the challenge of recovery. Families are forever, after all.

Entrepreneurial couples can transform criticism into feedback

Thursday, December 13, 2001

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

When couples work together they have the opportunity to work with a partner they love and trust most. They also have the opportunity to see the best and worst of their partner . . . day in and day out. Even with the most enlightened people, this constant togetherness can cause conflict. It's wonderful to have closeness, rapport, and regular praise from your sweetheart. It just doesn't feel as wonderful to have your partner know you so well that they give you regular criticism as well.

Frequently the criticism starts out as a desire to help or to improve your partner, but disintegrates into an argument and hard feelings. The object of the criticism gets defensive and complains that the spouse must not love the person he or she married. And the person delivering the "help" feels rejected and misunderstood. Many couples opt for keeping quiet about these things so as not to start a fight. Others duke it out until someone "wins" which of course means that they got way off the subject. But neither of these approaches really takes care of the problem.

If you think about it your spouse may be one of the best people to help you improve. They probably know you better than anyone else and they probably love you more. If you are working together then they also get to see you in more than one role, so again they are in a unique position to help you grow. And that is what criticism is. It is a critical analysis of your behaviors and an offering of advice on how to change, grow and improve yourself.

If you view criticism from this new perspective it may not be so hard to swallow. For example, psychologists know that a person's IQ continues to grow throughout the lifespan well into old age, if the person is actively engaging in life and learning new things. Our natural instinct is to keep growing but we can't do that if we don't reevaluate from time to and time.

We need to check out old habits, rewrite some scripts, take a few risks, and try anything new to break out of a rut. If we don't attend to this we lose out personally. This is equally true for your business. If you intend on keeping your business healthy, you have to meet the needs of a changing marketplace.

The major problem with criticism is that it's harder to swallow when it comes from someone other than you. And it is even harder to swallow when it comes from someone we care a lot about. It hurts twice as much when the one who we love most thinks we need improving. On the other hand when we decide for ourselves that we need to change something, we give ourselves credit for being very smart to come up with such a good idea. This really seems like a silly game to play. Why not use the collective intelligence of those around you? Criticism from another doesn't make you bad or undesirable. It is just feedback for your enlightenment.

A word to the criticizer is in order here too. Just because you mean well and love your partner, doesn't mean he or she will recognize your good intention, especially if your criticism cuts to the heart of one of their most cherished beliefs. So go easy with the criticism.

The best method for delivering a critical comment is to wait for an opportune moment. For example if your partner is feeling particularly bluesy that day, or just lost an important contract, this is not an opportune moment to size up their inadequacies. However, if they are musing about how they might improve a certain situation you can offer your opinion. Be prepared to remind them that you value many things about them as well. You should always offer praise with a criticism so that your partner hears that you care about them even if you think they should change.

There are times, however, when you are criticizing your partner about something that just doesn't matter or is more a statement about your inability to be flexible than it is about their need to change. Take a good look at your criticisms and ask yourself if they are really necessary. Your partner may be doing the very best he or she can. Most likely your partner is 90% of what you would like in a spouse/business partner, but not everything. That would be hard to come by. Why aren't you satisfied with 90%? It might just be that there is a change you need to make, not your spouse.

To avoid power struggles at work, put away fears and egos

Thursday, November 01, 2001

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Today, much is being written about the psychological differences between men and women. While there are differences, some of them profound, there are also many similarities. And when it comes to answering the question of "What do women want?" the answer is simple. They pretty much want what men want.

In a family firm, especially one where husband and wife are co-owners, there are bound to be power struggles. Women as well as men want to feel in charge of their lives. They want to feel valuable, appreciated. We call this concept "Power." Even children need a sense of personal power, of having some say in the direction of their lives.

A husband who asks, "How do I get my wife to do what I ask her to do at work?" is probably engaged in a power struggle with his wife. Both are worried that if they don't get their way, they will lose something (perhaps power over their own destinies.)

The solution is simple. Put your fears and your ego away. Ask yourself, how am I interfering in her sense of power? How can I include her in the decision-making process? How can I feel powerful and still give my spouse room to feel the same? In other words, look for a win-win solution.

Couples who work together need to develop a structure for communicating and decision-making that works for them. If you have a consensus model at home, it is difficult to implement a hierarchical model at work. If a husband and wife are used to making decisions together for the family, this is likely to be the best style at work as well. It is confusing and leads to power struggles when a wife is an equal partner at home, but must answer to her boss/husband at work.

Some copreneurs (couple who own, manage and share responsibility for an enterprise) have resolved these problems in creative ways. For example, one solution to power struggles at work is to have separate domains for husband and wife to work in. This way, neither husband nor wife has to answer to the other for the daily operations of their departments.

Another possible solution is to have differing levels of decision-making. Some levels of decision-making in the business require consensus by husband and wife. Other levels of decision-making can be handled by one spouse or the other. And still other levels are strictly the responsibility of the spouses managing that department.

In order to implement a successful plan for decision-making and prevent power struggles, a husband and wife need to attend to their personal relationship first. Relationships based on fear don't work. There must be respect, love and support to maintain a healthy relationship. There must be room for individual differences. There must be an honest assessment of each other's strengths so that duties at work can be assigned to produce the most efficient and successful outcome.

Too often copreneurs rely on traditional gender roles to define their duties at work and at home. While this may work for some couples, it can produce power struggles for other couples. If you are not a traditional couple at what makes you that that style is appropriate for work? Or perhaps the traditional model worked for you when you were younger and raising your children, but now the kids are grown, you need a more egalitarian style. As you establish your decision-making structure, consider your optimal marital style, keeping in mind your current values about family, marriage and work.

Jewish families have a tradition that helps them keep their perspective about family and work. On the right side of the entry door of a Jewish home, you will notice a small decorative box. This box holds a Mezuzah, a message from the Bible. The message is a reminder to family members that each day as they return home from work, the center of their lives is the family. In other words, all of one's accomplishments in the world of work have little meaning if they can't be shared with one's family.

Successful family firms and copreneurial venture seem to share this value also. There is a recognition that men and women, husband and wives really want the same thing. To be sure, they want success at work. They want to know that they are in charge of their destinies. But most important, they want to know that their accomplishments are appreciated by the ones they love and who they love.

So the next time you are engaged in a power struggle with your spouse, take a look at how you have been addressing your priorities. If you business decisions are coming at the expense of your intimate relationships, your spouse may be fighting for the survival of the family. Reorient yourself to family first and your business decisions will have the full support of your loved ones.

Good communication and trust strengthen family and business

Friday, July 13, 2001

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Many business owners are puzzled when their attorney or CPA suggests that they should meet with me before proceeding with signing a contract or structuring a reorganization or resolving a partnership disagreement. What's a psychologist have to do with business anyway? " I don't need a shrink," they say.

Yes, I get plenty of puzzled looks when I explain that I am a Psychologist and a Family/Business Consultant. But this makes a lot of sense when you take a look at a few basic facts. For example, half of American businesses are family owned and operated (and even more in the Northwest). Secondly, many of these businesses are run and staffed by family members who are not necessarily formally trained or educated for their specific job. They work for the business because they are trusted family members dedicated to the success of the family enterprise. Third, many of these businesses have been around two or three or four generations, which means that the children are growing up identifying themselves with the family business. What this means for many family firms is that the business is as much a part of the family and each family member as the family and each family member is a part of the business.

Recognizing that family/businesses are really families with a business identity, as a psychologist I am able to get beneath the surface of some business problems to identify the emotional snags that are hanging up a business decision. There is nothing more frustrating nor expensive than taking weeks and months to develop a new business strategy, only to have it sit there going nowhere because there is a family dispute. When Mom and Dad don't agree, or when Granpa doesn't approve of his successor, or when Daughter-in-law is at odds with Mother-in-law, or Son has a drug addiction problem, do you really think these things have no affect on the business? Yes many businesses continue to thrive for a while with serious problems like an alcoholic CEO, but what is the legacy for the next generation?

I believe it is very important to families in business to have the benefit of a psychologist's expertise when developing goals and resolving problems in their family enterprise. For example, I recently learned of an interesting study conducted in Oregon with troubled teens. The program results provide a valuable lesson for families in business too.

The program determined what mode of intervention works best in turning teens away from early school dropout and delinquency. The researchers compared several treatment groups. One group of teens attended a teen support group facilitated by a counselor. Another group of teens attended a teen support group, and also attended family therapy with their parents. Another group attended only family therapy. And a fourth group of teens only benefited by their parents attending a parent training class.

Over a five-year period, which group do you think made the most progress toward reducing delinquency and high school dropout among troubled teens? Interestingly the groups that were most successful were the parent training only and the family therapy group without a teen support group. When teens are allowed to socialize with other troubled teens, they just teach each other bad lessons. But when parents learn how to successfully parent and when teens work with their parents to resolve their problems, the whole family benefits.

There are two lessons here for families in business. First, whenever you are planning a new goal or you are stuck accomplishing a goal, the whole family needs to be involved in the solution. Secondly, the solution to any problem in any family, whether it be a business family or not, depends upon the parents or leadership. When the parents or leadership are strong and well educated about what works in a healthy family system, problems get addressed and solved sooner.

The teens in the above study were not elevated to the position of leadership in their families because they were part of solution discussions. But they were included in the discussions and learned problem-solving skills with their parents. A similar system works beautifully in successful family firms. Such firms have regular family business retreats where discussions ensue among stockholders and stakeholders alike. Open communication is an important key. But even more important is that open communication makes all family members feel like important contributors to the welfare of the family enterprise.

Many family firms want to have open communication. They want to resolve longstanding family/business disputes. They don't like walking on eggshells around certain family members or avoiding sensitive subjects. So why don't they get on with it? Why do their attorneys, CPAs and other business advisors have files filled with incomplete projects? Because in spite of good intentions, many of these family firms do not have the skills to address and resolve these problems. They need support and guidance by a psychologist who is trained in resolving problems within a family business system. They need education to learn these skills.

Not everyone is a natural born communicator. Not everyone knows how to "diagnose" family system problems. Not everyone has the courage to confront their family or a family member when love and dollars are at stake. It is no shame to be uneducated about these things. However it is a shame to let your embarrassment over your lack of education get in the way of seeking professional help. Remember a family business is first and foremost a family. Just as in the study of the troubled teens, if you strengthen the family, the individuals and the business will thrive.

Beat divorce statistics: Communicate as mate, not business partner

Friday, July 07, 2000

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

I got a call this week from a journalist (Business Week) wanting information on entrepreneurial couples who face divorce. When journalists call for an interview I get a queasy feeling in my stomach. I'm not worried about a Sixty- Minutes-Expose where I'll say something so embarrassing that the whole nation will think I'm ignorant. My concern is that there are the inevitable questions about statistics. As we all know statistics are often about as confusing and useful as software manuals written by Korean engineers and translated into English.

It's not that I can't reel off statistics with the best of them. I am a researcher after all. I have graduate degrees . . . two of them! But when it comes to statistics about families in business, or entrepreneurial couples, the numbers are thin. The SBA does not keep statistics on these populations. The National Association for Women Business Owners reports on women-owned businesses, but not on couple-owned businesses. The most fascinating thing about this lack of information is that it is estimated that over half of the gross national product comes from family owned firms and half of American works in them! So where are the numbers?

To make matters worse this particular journalist wanted statistics on divorce rates among entrepreneurial couples. Further she wanted to know the statistics on those couples who get divorced and still choose to stay business partners. This is a pretty narrow segment of the population. As exasperating as these requests are for statistics (i.e., I get requests for such interviews about once a month) what this tells me is that there is a rapidly growing interest in the subject. Not just the media, but the public wants to know more about entrepreneurial couples . . . how they do it, how they survive it, how they prosper, how they keep love alive in the fast-paced cutthroat world of the national/international marketplace.

If you also want statistics, I will disappoint you too. I just don't know how many entrepreneurial couples out there get divorced or avoid divorce. However, I can confidently tell how to manage it either way.

First, if your marriage/business partnership has already disintegrated to the point of divorce and you really feel there is no turning back, seek the advice of a competent matrimonial attorney. Your business attorney cannot help you here. A marriage is unlike any other business contract you have entered. Most sophisticated business people are shocked to discover the entanglements created by being married and business partners. Your matrimonial lawyer will help with the marital and business division. But it will be costly and take more time than you could possibly conceive; certainly more time than it took to sign your marriage license at the courthouse.

But let's assume that things have not gone this far awry. In fact, let's assume that you two are happily married and the business is thriving and you would just like to prevent trouble. Simply, the best insurance against divorce is to attend to the relationship first, the business second. Sadly, the opposite seems to be what most entrepreneurial couples do. The pull of the business is strong, immediate and concrete. The pull of the marriage is strong too, but not as immediate and certainly fuzzy. Because it is easier to react and answer the phone call rather than remember to say something loving to one's spouse, the typical entrepreneur opts for responding to business needs first. But the truth is it is pretty simple to maintain a relationship and much more complicated to run a business, so it seems the average entrepreneur could work both into their hectic schedule.

Business is about competition and marriage is about love. In business the goal is to compete, to win, to make a profit. In marriage there is no goal, but rather a process . . . that of exchanging love. Being loving and receiving love are the basics of a healthy marriage. How much work is love anyway? How much effort is there in telling your spouse he or she is loved? How hard is it to carve out one night a month to go on a date? Is it such an extravagance to bring home flowers for your sweetheart or treat him or her to basketball tickets? Along with all of the other e-mails you respond to each day, would it take so much of your precious work time to send an e-mail of appreciation to your spouse too?

It's not that entrepreneurial couples don't have time for their loved ones. It's that the goal orientation of the business takes over. Always in the competitive mode from dawn to dusk, the entrepreneur ticks one item after another off of their daily agenda. Being loving is not on the list. Accomplishment is. In business the point of any conversation is the bottom line or the close. In a marriage the point of the conversation is rapport, staying emotionally connected with one another, or feeling loved. When there are not only one but two entrepreneurs in the marriage, such as with entrepreneurial couples, the focus can be so much on the business, and on the business mode of communication, that love is left in the dust as the couple races to out distance their competition and create financial independence. With this approach, however, they also risk total independence from each other as well. One day there may be statistics on the number of entrepreneurial couples who end their marriages. But if you don't want to be one of those divorce statistics then immediately implement this simple plan. Put the marriage first by doing one loving thing each day for your spouse. You can do battle and conquer all day long in the business world, but at the end of your day, switch modes and have a conversation about nothing at all with your spouse. Don't search for the bottom line. Don't anticipate the close. Instead hold her hand, look into his eyes, talk a little, and congratulate yourself on how lucky you are to have a business partner who is the love of your life.