Working with anyone has its challenges; and it’s certainly true when working full time with your spouse. Every marriage has times of occasional conflict and disagreement, but when you add in a mutual business interest, the chances for discord increase dramatically!
I don’t even remember the issue, but it wasn’t anything significant or life changing. Maybe it was a strategic placement, perhaps it was something regarding a special promo or give-away. It could have been my ending a sentence with a preposition, which I have never been concerned about.
But whatever it was, it was the snowflake that started the avalanche – an avalanche of discord. Before either of us knew what was happening, verbal snowballs were flying! And then it happened—the cold, still silence. Yes, this has happened in our home, and it’s happened in our business.
When Your Best Friend is Your Business Partner
Think about it. If you’ve ever worked outside the home, you have probably experienced at least some challenges with your employer—possibly an employee, or perhaps with a co-worker or client. When these times of testing came up, you may have had a person to confide in – probably your spouse. As difficult as things may have been at work, there was always someone at home who would be on your side—your best friend! But now, guess what? You are working right beside that best friend! You may find that your confidant may, at times, turn out to be your combatant!
But, before you decide to toss out your dream of a family enterprise, consider this: Being together in a business relationship with your spouse allows you to learn even more about one another—to bond like you never dreamed possible!. And you are able to develop even more skills in a key area of human interaction: Communication.
You see, in my opening story, Stacy and I didn’t allow a long winter of anger and frustration cripple our relationship or cool our affection. We were able to both recognize what was happening – and we took steps to put the conflict aside. And it’s a habit we hope to help you develop too.
Good communication is crucial to a successful business, and it’s one of the most critical skills for a joy-filled and purposeful marriage. But, good, quality communication rarely comes naturally; rather, it’s a skill that takes focus, commitment, and practice.
So, let’s consider a few fundamentals of effective conflict management, especially as it relates to working together in a family enterprise! Keep these fundamentals in mind, and you’ll quickly overcome those moments of strife. Before you know it, the ice will have melted, and you’ll have returned to sunshine and smooth sailing! Here are a few points to consider:
Don’t Carry Work Issues over to Family Time
While a healthy network marketing business will often become part of your everyday life, rather than a 9-5 gig, you still need to find a way of segmenting work hours from family hours, and leaving the office issues at the office, especially if the issues are stressful ones. Guard family time by setting times when phone calls, emails, and text messages will just have to wait until the next day. Set boundaries on which you both agree.
Keep in mind that the time you have as a couple, and as a family are far more important than any challenge with your business. Agree to pick up the issue the next day, remembering that your strength is your unity, and that whatever the issue is, you will work through it together.
Never Judge or Assume Motives
This one is huge. Practice empathy. When conflict arises, focus on how your partner may be hurting or feeling, rather than becoming automatically defensive or quick to judge his/her motives as selfish or “against you.” If you can create a habit of “thinking the best” of one another’s motives, you’ll be more likely to avoid talking past one another.
Communicate how you feel in the midst of the disagreement. Perhaps your spouse’s position made you feel insignificant or unvalued; or perhaps you felt your spouse overstepped his or her bounds. Communicate your feelings! Just be sure to also listen to and consider how your spouse feels!
Often times, in the midst of disagreement, we can easily assume we know what our spouse is thinking or why they did or said this or that; but, unless you have a supernatural gift of prophecy, you can’t really know. So, don’t accuse your spouse of intentionally trying to hurt you. Instead, focus on how an incident made you feel. Express your perspective, calmly and coherently. This allows for more open dialogue, and will likely lead to a unified solution.
Use Assertive Speech, Rather than Passive Aggressive Digs
Sometimes, even though he or she finds something frustrating, a spouse may be reluctant to deal with an issue directly. Perhaps they convince themselves they are “avoiding conflict” or trying to just let it go, not realizing that unresolved conflicts can fester.
And, instead of “letting it go,” he or she may find the frustration building, and resort to veiled comments pertaining to the issue. Perhaps the motives or the wisdom/decision of the other party is secretly questioned; but, instead of confronting the issue, the offended spouse resorts to subtle sarcasm.
The offending spouse may not even know what they’ve done to create the tension! They may suspect there’s an issue, but they aren’t able to address it, work to rectify it, or even apologize for it because they have no idea why their spouse is upset! It’s like fighting an invisible phantom—there’s no winning!
A better approach is for the offending spouse to simply state, “I think this direction/decision is wrong. Let me share why.” Being direct leads to open communication, trust, and it moves your company (and your relationship) forward in a healthy way.
Avoid Accusatory Exaggerated Phrases
In the midst of a conflict, it’s very easy to pull out the hyperbole sword. This is a communication weapon of mass destruction—one that can easily wound or destroy relationships, as well as business initiatives.
You hear the attack of hyperbole when the phrases, “You always…” or “You never…” are unleashed in the midst of an issue. Also, be careful of your pronouns. If the pronoun “You” is overused when expressing feelings, it can come across as accusatory. Try using “I felt left out of this decision…” You could also use “We,” when trying to find common ground, “I think we should try…” This brings you both to the table again.
Focus on the root cause of the conflict. Obviously, your spouse is not trying to harm your mutual business. He or she wants to see things thrive, just like you do. So, instead of jumping to hyperbole, try to put yourself in his or her shoes and understand what they’re feeling—what is their perspective in all of it. Working together, you can find common ground and move forward to come to a mutual position.
Stop, Drop, and “Role”
Truly listen to your spouse, without interrupting, before you respond. If you happen to be the spouse being confronted with an issue, try to remember the saying that many of us learned in grammar school, “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” This was the advice given if you were ever caught on fire – and it also pertains to potentially fiery communication!
You may remember the Book of James in the Bible. It compares the tongue to a flame, something that can start a big fire! And it’s so true! When confronted, our first temptation is to be defensive, or to strike back.
But, a better approach for your business relationship, and for your marriage, is to stop and really listen. Hear what your spouse is saying. Then, drop the defensive posture, and repeat back what you heard them say. For instance, you could respond with, “I want to be sure I am hearing you correctly. You are saying that my decision to do ____ made you feel ____. Is that right?”
Then, in your mind, role play the situation from your spouse’s perspective. Strive to understand what they’re feeling – and why. Then, enter into constructive dialogue to come to an agreement.
Be Quick to Forgive
Again, remember, when working together, you both have a common goal—a common dream, and that is the success of your business! Yet, you still may have differing opinions on methods; and this is where feelings can be hurt.
However, even when emotions and feelings are on edge, if you can utilize some of the tips above you’ll likely be able to relieve some of the tension. After that, as you find some common ground, perhaps one (or both) of you will see a need to apologize.
When this happens, seize the high ground and accept the apology eagerly, and without strings or smug “I told you so’s.” This is important for you both, because you’re likely to be working together for decades! Don’t keep a list of wrongs or catalogue past failures or arguments; forgive and move forward with grace, hope, and love!
The Hidden Resource of Personality Differences
By the way, Stacy and I are still working on the points above. Communication takes time and work! If you’re wondering about our “color personalities,” I am a Blue/Red and she is a Green/Blue. Or, if you follow Myers-Briggs, I’m the ENFP (the Campaigner) while she is the ISFJ (the Defender).
Consider what that means! I’m leading the charge and she is defending the city! We are either a beautifully balanced team or we are set at odds with one another by design! In the real world, there are still times when I move ahead too quickly with an initiative (she calls this pushy/reckless) or I wait impatiently for her to make a decision or move forward on something (I call this perfectionism/procrastination). Stacy’s defending the city that I’m eager to take ownership of! I see her action as panic and she views mine as reckless. So, clashes are inevitable.
But we’ve both learned that while our personalities are different, they’re also complementary…as long we’re truly connected–communicating and valuing one another’s input! While Stacy is tempted to allow her desire to want everything “perfect” first, paralyze her, I light the fire she needs to move forward. I stretch her out of her comfort zone and help her to realize dreams she thought were out of reach.
And, in my excitement to move forward on just about everything, I’m tempted to act on impulse, so Stacy helps me to think ahead, to see hidden problems, and to analyze the details before jumping the gun, so that we don’t make big mistakes that could jeopardize our business or hurt someone’s feelings.
Stacy and I approach issues and opportunities from different perspectives, which means that when we work as a team, we can see every facet. That’s why we find so much promise in working together! Even when we have discord or disagreement, we know we are in this for the long haul! We will work it out, and we will succeed, because we are better together! And, the same is true of you and your spouse. Take time to ponder the points above, put them into action, and see the difference it makes in your business, but more importantly in your marriage!