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14 September 2017,
Family Business

Understanding Your Parents: Fearful People Hurt People

14 September 2017

Second generation family business owners often face conflict with their parents in running the business. If you don’t understand the psychology behind it, you may risk losing your family ties.

It was my second coaching session with a couple who has taken over parents’ business. We had made great progress the first session and they were so excited to proceed with their 90-day plans. But what I saw that day were 2 very stressed out people.

It turns out that over the last week, their parents (who are supposed to be retired) have dominated the office and directly instructed their team to change the strategies. What was happening? What happened to “I leave this business to you guys?”

As they described the situation, I felt immense anger from the couple. How could our parents do this to us? When I hear the story of their parents, I sensed an older couple who is so afraid of being useless. And perhaps that fear is leading them to do so many irrational things.

My first step was to diffuse the hatred and anger. Which is more important? Family or business? You don’t have to continue working with your parents, but please don’t hate them.

Next I invited them to put on empathy instead of taking it personally. Sometimes at a certain age, when parents do things that are hurtful, “It’s not about you. It’s about them.” They don’t hate you; they are just fearful about their lives and their usefulness. Sometimes, depending on age, they simply become more childish. If you take it personally, you may respond with anger and hurt. If you realize that it’s more about them and what they’re going through in their old age, you may choose to respond with love.

The decision to stay or go can be made lovingly. When I coach family businesses, the business decision comes later. More important is the attitude of the heart. And if done properly, it should enable you to make a more rational business decision and set a better tone for the relationship.

Cynthia Wihardja
Firm Owner & Business Coach

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