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Conflict of Understanding

Know before you dig…

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…being in business together was the worst thing for our relationship…

Have you heard about how Gravity Payments co-founder Lucas Price is suing his brother Dan? Maybe you’re more familiar with the story of the company that raised everyone’s salary to $70K. Either way, Dan Price said in the Seattle Times that “being in business together was the worst thing for our relationship.”

Starting and running a business with family and friends – sometimes it works, for example, the Winklevoss brothers; sometimes it doesn’t, for example, the Price brothers of Gravity Payments. Sometimes, a friend of the founder and CEO makes a good board member, sometimes not (Keep Past Conflicts from Making Current Conflicts Worse).

Business conflicts between family and friends are always complicated by the past, even if you swear they aren’t. Past problems always influence the course of current problems just as rocks direct the flow of a river, and not just in obvious white water.

Business conflicts also make social situations difficult, especially if you’re in business with a family member and Thanksgiving is coming up.

When starting a business with a friend or family member

If you’re considering starting a business with a friend or family member, assess your relationship first. If there are issues you never brought up, bring them up now and resolve them. Otherwise, one of two things will happen as you go forward: (1) you’ll spend a lot of energy suppressing your anger about the past, or (2) past issues will make current issues harder to solve, if not impossible.

If you’re already in business with a friend or family member

If you’re already in business with a friend or family member, and you have a conflict regarding the business, make sure you’re not doing these things that I often see in mediation between friends and family members.

Don’t try to control the other person’s future behavior if that behavior that has nothing to do with you. For example, wanting to “teach him (or her) a lesson.” If you’re trying to do that, that means you feel you don’t have enough influence or control, or you’re trying to control something that’s out of your control. Look at what you can influence and control, and focus on making decisions about those issues.

If you don’t want to talk about the past, you may need to. You may think it isn’t affecting the present, but it always does. If nothing else, acknowledge the influence of past problems to yourself. If talking about the past is essential to settling the problems of the future, enlist the help of a mediator.

Always try mediation to resolve your conflicts. Judges themselves will tell you that litigation doesn’t improve friendships and family relationships, which is probably obvious anyway.

Never go straight to litigation. It may seem less painful than talking about feelings and the past with your friend or family member. But litigation comes with its own set of distresses and complications.

Don’t sabotage an agreement now, because you don’t want to deal with that person in the future. You may get a better outcome by agreeing to limited future interactions.

Start out well, and use mediation

If you start a business with friends or family members, make sure you start out well. Resolve past issues that need resolving, and agree to use mediation to resolve any issues that come up. If you encounter conflicts, resolve them through mediation. Protect your business and enjoy Thanksgiving with your family.

Photo credit: atomicity CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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