Monday, February 1, 2010

Sleeping with the Enemy!

Imagine, couples at conferences held at fancy resorts, networking, champagne toasts, fancy awards dinners, ladies in silky gowns, gents in tuxedos, the day culminating in a beautiful evening with the song "Behind Closed Doors" playing in the background. They are on top of the world.

Now turn your attention to the kitchen table. The couple sitting there in dead silence, exchanging glares and stares. Only if looks could kill. Tension so thick, you can cut it with a knife. Now imagine GI Joe and GI Jane at their worst behavior. Absolutely pissed off with each other. There is the shouting, the screaming, the feet stomping. It's an all out war. Short of hand-to-hand combat, anything goes. Weapons include feet stomping, tears, sobbing, shouting, glaring looks, stares, emotional blackmail, and even threats of leaving.

Finally, imagine all this happening in the life of the same couple--never knowing when which of these scenarios will show up. They are treading lightly, walking on egg shells. Appearing happy on the outside, miserable on the inside. On the outside they may pretend all is well. On the inside there is immense tension, frustration, and at times feelings of resignation, hopelessness and desire to just run away from it all.

In case you're wondering, no, this is not some thriller movie. This happens on a daily basis across the world, in numerous homes and businesses. It's the life of couples in business together.

Some go into business together with thoughts of love and thinking how nice it'll be to be together all the time. Others go into it out of necessity. No matter the reason, often it ends up in all out war and relationships even torn apart in the process. I have observed this all too closely. Not a pretty sight.

Given my first hand close observations over the years, if you're in this situation or know of a couple who are, I like to suggest some solutions--to save not only the business but more importantly the marriage and the relationship.

1. Spend time to discuss each others overall goals and desires. Too often business can become all-consuming and it becomes easy to loose sight of the fact that the business is there to support the life you want to live, not the other way around. Without such clarity and alignment, each partner can be rowing in different directions, which itself contributes to tension.

2. Take the time to clearly define roles, responsibilities, and authority levels. And then honor those, and not take each other for granted. At work, treat each other more as professionals colleagues.

3. Use assessments to better understand each other, e.g. behaviors, motivators, communication styles, triggers, and other personality traits. I know my wife and I went through this process, after being married for 27 years. Still, we learned so much and it has helped us improve our own marriage.

4. To facilitate difficult and sensitive conversations involve someone external, someone who will be objective, neutral and look for the greater good of the relationship and the business. Someone who understands business AND such dynamics. Someone who isn't afraid to ask the hard questions, to challenge and to hold the couple accountable.

5. Schedule and hold regular meetings where the "major" business issues can be discussed. Too often one assumes because the couple works together, they both know what all is happening in the business. My experience shows that unfortunately the opposite is more of what takes place.

There truly is a lot of joy in seeing couples in business together and there is immense power in such teams. And it can also be living hell. I have personally seen it all - the good, the bad and the ugly. To build lasting success in business AND the relationshiop, it starts with these simple yet powerful steps.

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