Experience: Improving Family Business Communications

by | May 13, 2010

Experience is the best learning tool.  Our guest blog post comes from Bill Altland, a family business owner of Whale Tail Pharmacy in Craig, Alaska.


The word that comes to my mind relating to communication issues in family businesses is the word “insidious”. It can be difficult to separate the business issues from family issues when family members are involved in both. It can be difficult to gain perspective because when these two different realms of relationships overlap, assumptions will be made. And these are not always correct assumptions. Many of my assumptions weren’t correct anyway. I took for granted that I knew what my business partner & spouse was thinking. I was surprised at just how many of her thoughts were also my thoughts about many of the perceived challenges we were dealing with.
I found that communications could be facilitated by intentionally stepping back and examining both the family and work relationships. This was difficult for my wife and I to do this on our own. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it was virtually impossible in our case. Business and personal life were intertwined. Too much so.
We found it very helpful to have somebody outside the family guide us through the process of improving communications. It had to be somebody we could trust and in whom we had confidence. A mediator, if you will. Listing challenges and concerns both separately and together as a couple was very helpful. Writing a plan with time lines was also very helpful. Having a way to measure the implementation of a plan was absolutely necessary. All of these activities helped us get to the root of our major problem – which was the identification of incorrect assumptions on each of our parts.