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Family Ties

How your relationships at home can help (or hurt) your business.

If you're having trouble relating to your colleagues, some objective self-analysis may reveal that you have a similar problem in your relationships with your spouse or children. In particular, says Annmarie Neal, a senior consultant in the Denver office of management consulting firm RHR International, how you control your children may mirror how you exert control over your employees. Because behavior tends to be consistent across settings, Neal says paying attention to how you function both at and away from work can help you uncover problems and even help you become a better boss.

"The closer the family dynamics are to the business, the more important it is to pay attention to those issues," Neal says. "In a large company, the boundaries are a lot clearer because the processes and structures of the business keep those boundaries intact. In smaller organizations, family dynamics inevitably emerge because we're not clear on our business boundaries."

Neal suggests using the following questions to identify your strengths and potential problem areas. In addition to answering the questions yourself, solicit feedback from your family members and co-workers.

  • How is your management style similar to and different from your parenting style?
  • How are your work relationships similar to and different from your sibling relationships?
  • How is the role you play in your family similar to and different from roles you play in peer groups at work?
  • Do your bad habits play themselves out at work as well as at home?
  • Do you react toward people at work in ways you don't understand? If so, do these people remind you of any family members?

Often, the process of identifying and articulating a problem will also provide the solution. If it doesn't, you may want to consider seeing a counselor with expertise in workplace issues. If your actions don't seem to be doing much good in either environment, start practicing new behaviors at home, where you likely feel safer; when you're ready, you can transfer them to your workplace.

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This article was originally published in the April 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Family Ties.

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