How to protect your family business from emotional drama


Let’s say you’re working with your older sister (keep reading even if you don’t have one).  You work in the marketing side of the family business, and she works on the finance side.  You drop by her office to talk about an idea you have about placing an ad in a well-known industry magazine.  She says she’s not sure that people really read that magazine, and suggests that you do a little more research about it.  And then she asks, “by the way, how much would that ad cost?”

You explode.  “You’re so rigid!  You are always so bossy. You’re not always right!” No wonder our business is struggling!”  And then you slam the door on the way out (hopefully out of the earshot of employees and customers).

DiC-LisaKappesserBookWhat’s happening to you?  

Lisa Kappesser, a career and executive coach and author of The Smart New Way to Get Hired: Use Emotional Intelligence and Land the Right Job, says that you’re having an “amygdala attack.”

An expert in “emotional intelligence,” Lisa explains that some situations act as triggers for emotions that are very difficult to control.

We all have triggers, based on our unique personal histories and experiences. When a trigger sets off our emotions, the amygdala, the part of our brain which reacts quickly to protect us, takes over.  The result?  We react without thinking, fueled by feelings that overwhelm us.  The results can be very upsetting, to us and certainly to others.

It’s should come as no surprise that for some families who work together, there’s a high likelihood that amygdala attacks will erupt on a fairly regular basis. But as Lisa advises, you can learn to identify your triggers and learn to manage them.

How?  Drawing on the work of Daniel Goleman and others, Lisa has several suggestions:

Increase self-awareness:

Try journaling. You’ll have a record of your thoughts and feelings on a daily basis, and writing them down can help you understand patterns and identify triggers and prepare for the situations which “push your buttons”.

Develop your capacity for self-management:

Time-outs often work with kids, and adults need them, too.  Leave the scene if you need to.  Breathe…deeply.  Setting priorities can help as well. Amygdala attacks can derail us…often for hours…and having a list of what to do can help.

Strengthen your social awareness:

Step back and ask, “If I were in his or her position, what would I need?” In the situation of you and your fictional sister, your sister was actually just doing her job.

Improve your social skills:

What would happen if you apologized to your sister? And took her advice?  And thanked her later?  If we are determined to regulate our emotions, we can practice the skills we may have learned long ago…skills we need even more as adults.

There’s a reason so many organizations are investing in learning from people like Lisa. We all have triggers, and workplaces-family and non-family-can be landmines.  Developing our emotional intelligence helps us to maneuver through these situations more effectively.

Your “sister” will probably forgive you.  She has her triggers, too.

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