In-laws in the Family Business
Generally speaking, many would agree that marriage is associated with feelings of happiness, love, devotion, and commitment. However, within a family business, wedding bells can sound less like a celebration and more like a warning. There’s no doubt that marriage is critical to the continuity of a family business and the parenting of future generations. But marriage can also stir up concerns and fears. What happens in the event of a divorce? What about remarriages, stepparents, stepchildren? What if the in-laws cause a problem? Marriage can be a threat to the business itself, giving family members reason to worry.
In-laws or Out-laws?
After marrying into a family business, in-laws are often seen as foreigners. Family members tend to greet them with suspicion, hostility, or a remote demeanor. Because of increasing divorce rates, in-laws make family members edgy: they’re seen as powerful influencers on their spouse’s emotions, and too often in negative ways. In-laws are not trustworthy and they are not likely to put the family business before their own needs, consequently posing as a threat to the family business.
Is it right to assume in-laws have hidden agendas or do not care about the family business? The reality is, while it’s common (and sometimes habitual) to regard in-laws with suspicion, it’s important to avoid a relationship based on fear and bias. Instead, make a conscious effort to work toward building a healthy and constructive relationship. In-laws should be welcomed into the family and treated as an asset to the business. They have their own set of skills and bring fresh perspectives that can (and often do) enhance family business culture for the better.
Still have concerns? Remember: it’s possible to protect family business assets from future problems while at the same time creating a welcoming environment. Below are a few simple, yet crucial tips on changing the dynamics of in-law relationships:
- Address issues with in-laws before the big wedding day
Doing so will allow for smoother relationships and more effective conflict resolution strategies (assuming any disagreements arise).
- Get to know your in-laws
Show them respect, ask questions, and listen. What’s their family history? What are their values? Give them the opportunity to learn the same about you and your family business. Getting to know your in-law as an individual will help them feel like less of an outsider.
- Introduce in-laws to the business
Whether they work for the business or not, this is a must. Walk them through the entire family business environment and culture, and allow them to ask any questions they might otherwise hesitate to ask.
- Include in-laws in family meetings
This increases the level of trust between the family and the in-law. Sharing information with in-laws might raise skepticism among some family members, but keep in mind that it’s best for in-laws to hear information first-hand in order to avoid biased or misconstrued information from their spouse.
- In-laws are the co-parents of the NxG
Acknowledge the fact that in-laws will also be co-parenting the NxG, regardless of divorce. Creating a respectful relationship and involving in-laws in family business activities means they’ll be more informed as parents for the next generation of family business leaders.
- Appoint In-law Ambassadors
The job of an in-law ambassador is to essentially guide new in-laws and provide them with orientation around the family business. In-law ambassadors should be actual in-laws. They should also be knowledgeable, patient, and open to sharing stories of their own in-law experience with new in-laws, making what is often an overwhelming transition into a more comfortable one.
Remember that family members have a crucial part to play in building constructive relationships with in-laws. Entering a tightly-knit community, especially within a family business, could be uncomfortable and tense. Do your part to make in-laws feel welcome. Recognize their talents, make an effort to connect with them, be patient, and give them the space they need to adjust.