James Lea says in the Triangle Business Journal that  he is  no longer surprised, but still dismayed by the family-owned businesses that come close to meltdown because of unrelieved tensions.

Because the families who own and run businesses are human, they’re subject to slip-ups, oversights and the production of unintended consequences.

If ignored, others’ reactions to those gaffs and goofs can affect the workplace atmosphere and family relationships like a couple of rotten apples in the barrel. Discomfort thickens into resentment that may turn into bitterness that can either explode into open conflict or – worse – eat away like acid at the family and the business.

It’s important to head off that chain of emotions and events by moving proactively to ease the tensions that distract people and disable business processes. Here are a few ways of doing it.

• Trade self-righteousness for self-appraisal: Son made a big mistake in an important sales presentation, and Dad got seriously out of sorts about it. For weeks, Dad was hot on the inside and frosty on the outside.

Then one night, Dad looked into the bathroom mirror and recognized a guy who had made his own share of business mistakes. That got him thinking about the circumstances of Junior’s blunder. Could he have given the young guy insufficient or even inaccurate background information?

It was too late to re-check the information or re-do the presentation, but it wasn’t too late to learn from the experience and then wipe it off the board and move on. The next morning, Dad brought two coffees into his son’s office and they began planning the next major presentation that the son would make.

• Be honest but not vengeful. One of Mom’s less endearing traits was her habit of popping off without thinking it through. This time, her words cut so deep that everyone around her felt wounded. The wisecrack just wouldn’t wash out of their minds, and it was taking up room that should have gone to more constructive thoughts.

Finally, her daughter realized the situation had festered long enough. “Mom, I don’t think you meant it,” she told her mother quietly, “but when you made that statement about us kids, you hurt all of us. Please sit down with us and explain what you said and help us to get back on an even keel.”

Mom was surprised and eager to clear the air, the family was relieved when she gathered them around for a talk, and life at the office and at home brightened up again.

• Find something to admire and admit it: When news of brother’s fat bonus check got around the family, the “It looks like Dad loves him best” gas began to pollute the air. Then in a late afternoon gripe session that focused on brother and his bonus, someone said, “But you know, he’s one of the best people managers, the most effective motivators, I’ve ever seen.”

Triangle Business Journal