Kelly: Ok, so we’ve touched on your journey and your expertise in leadership development. But let’s delve a little deeper into the unique challenges that real estate family businesses face. What are they?
Jennifer: One of the most common challenges is the differing expectations among family members. Some view the business as their legacy, something they must preserve, nurture and grow. Other family members only care about the financial resources that will be available to them and lack the emotional attachment to the business.
Gender dynamics can also come into play. In many of the families I’ve worked with, the women in the family feel their perspectives are ignored – especially if they don’t actually work in the business. They want to grow the business and they also want their opinions heard, respected and acted upon.
Oftentimes, the first step is having a family retreat in which we can talk about the difficult, and often unspoken, concerns as well as educate everyone about the business, their respective ownership, etc.
Kelly: You mentioned the emotional attachment to legacy properties as a potential issue. Some family members may want to keep and manage these properties even if they aren’t turning a profit. Others might prefer selling them. How can you resolve this?
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s a difficult one. The first thing is to acknowledge and address these feelings. Communicate openly and honestly and find common ground as a starting point. Each party will usually have valid reasons and concerns for feeling the way they do. Recognizing and respecting all perspectives is the first step.
Kelly: Let’s talk a bit more about communication then. You’ve mentioned its importance in the context of family-owned businesses. Could you elaborate on that a little?
Jennifer: Communication is at the heart of many challenges within family real estate businesses. It dictates all important decisions and who’s involved in making them.
Sometimes, family members need a structured way to communicate. It’s hard to talk honestly when you don’t feel your opinion is respected. It’s also hard when you are the one running the business, doing everything you can to continue its growth and others question your decisions. It’s easy for everyone to take things very personally. By having a family retreat facilitated by an external and objective person, family members can both listen to other points of view and express their own. And they have a referee, so to speak, to deal with the tension. Clients often tell me they really appreciate my ability to help them listen to each other and to discern and reframe the critical issues so they can reach resolution.
Kelly: Yeah, because a lack of communication can lead to conflict, right? So can you share strategies for conflict resolution within families?
Jennifer: Conflict resolution involves two key components: advocacy and inquiry. Advocacy is about expressing your own viewpoint. And inquiry, that’s the art of actively listening to understand, not just to respond. Too often, we listen to respond and we are determined to get our way rather than truly listening and understanding a different perspective and approach.
Really, it’s about fostering a climate of open dialogue.
I also provide tools and structures, such as the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) Model. These tools and structures can help families make decisions effectively.
Kelly: Great. Before we wrap up, what’s your message to our readers who might be dealing with similar challenges in their family businesses?
Jennifer: My message is simple: Reflect on your family’s dynamics. Where is the tension? What contributes to it? What do you do well together as a family? Talk to other family members and find out what’s on their minds. Listen to them without instantly reaching a judgment. Find out what matters to each person and what does not.. And don’t hesitate to seek coaching or guidance to help you resolve your collective concerns. It’s never too late to address these issues and find the right solutions.
Effective communication is key. Do your best to understand differing perspectives. And use conflict resolution strategies. These things will pave the way to be a strong family and to continue a successful family business.