Close Encounters

Closing In

Problems arise when togetherness becomes extreme and family members become too involved in each other's lives. "This can be especially stifling for young people in a family business," says Leslie Dashew, a family business consultant in Atlanta and author of The Best of the Human Side (Beowulf Publishing). "They wind up being smothered by their families at the very age they need to separate from them." The result: They're turned off by the family business.

The lack of privacy can have other negative effects as well. Spouses, for example, may build up resentment and jealousy. They feel "out of it"--less important in their spouse's life than the spouse's siblings or parents. Noninvolved parents and children of the family businessperson may also feel they're considered inconsequential and that the family members in the business take priority.

You know you're too enmeshed in the family business when it creates problems in your household. "You can also see symptoms of how too much togetherness can be detrimental to the business," says Joe Paul, a family business consultant in Portland, Oregon, and a member of the Aspen Family Business Group. He identifies these red flags:

  • Members of the family business are so in tune with each other's emotional states that when one panics, the others do, too.
  • Decision-making is slowed to a halt because of the need to have everyone in the family "on board."
  • All the family members can be swayed by one person's poor or radical idea because they don't want to make waves.

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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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