Close Encounters

Just how much family togetherness is too much?

It's obvious: The more time you spend with family members, the more your lives overlap. That's why relatives who work together have an especially keen awareness of each other. Their close daily contact gives them the opportunity to talk about personal topics they wouldn't broach if, say, they only talked on the phone once a week. They can read each other's body language so well, they can tell how the others are feeling without having to ask. And they talk among themselves, so if one sibling knows that another is having marital problems, for example, he may share that information with another sibling so they can take some work off the shoulders of the sibling under stress.

This private verbal and nonverbal communication is the glue of family businesses. It helps relatives stay connected, supports their individual and collective needs, and allows them to share the vision that drives the company. Without the closeness, disagreements mushroom into disputes and people pull in different directions.

Patricia Schiff Estess writes family business histories and is the author of two books, Managing Alternative Work Arrangements (Crisp Publishing) and Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage (Betterway Press).

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This article was originally published in the July 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Close Encounters.

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