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  • Writer's pictureRussel Baskin

The Emotional Undercurrent in Family Business Conversations


family dispute

In certain instances, family discussions may seem to revolve around a business matter, but with deeper listening it becomes clear that there are underlying relational concerns. Initially, the discrepancy between spoken words and the emotional undercurrent may seem perplexing. However, it gradually becomes apparent that the unresolved "business" issue serves as a substitute for addressing a more sensitive relational issue that currently remains unspoken. The family becomes stuck in a pseudo debate to resolve the apparent business concern because the stakes involved in delving into the underlying relational issues are simply too high.


When the conversation happening is not the conversation that needs to happen, the emotional undercurrent can become more complex and layered with unspoken tension, frustration, or dissatisfaction. This situation often arises when family members avoid addressing sensitive or difficult topics, are in denial that there is relational problem, opting for more superficial or unrelated discussions instead.


One of the emotions that may arise in this context is a sense of avoidance or discomfort. Family members may consciously or unconsciously choose to divert the conversation away from the core issues that need attention. This avoidance can stem from fear of conflict, a desire to maintain harmony, or a reluctance to confront uncomfortable truths. The emotional undercurrent may reflect a sense of unease, as family members navigate around the unaddressed elephant in the room.


Resentment may also simmer beneath the surface when the conversation veers away from what truly needs to be discussed. Family members may feel unheard, dismissed, or frustrated by the avoidance of critical topics. This emotional undercurrent can manifest as subtle hints of tension, passive-aggressive remarks, or a general sense of dissatisfaction. Over time, unresolved resentment can erode trust and hinder effective communication within the family.


Overcoming the emotional undercurrent and steering the conversation towards the topics that truly demand attention requires the courage to take the first step. This may be easier with a third party who can guide the discussion, fostering an environment that encourages open and honest communication while creating a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to express their unvoiced thoughts and emotions. These difficult conversations require individuals to acknowledge the inherent discomfort and awkwardness when embracing vulnerability. This process can be challenging but is crucial for fostering deeper understanding, resolving conflicts, and nurturing healthier dynamics within the family.


Ultimately, recognizing when the conversation happening is not the conversation that needs to happen and proactively addressing the underlying issues can lead to more authentic and productive family interactions. It allows for the exploration of challenging topics, the healing of emotional wounds, and the strengthening of familial bonds.


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Russel Baskin has been working with families and advisors in a variety of capacities for the past 15 years. She brings a human development background and a passion for family enterprise to her coaching, consulting, and education work. Before joining Trella, she was the National Director of Education and Programming for Family Enterprise Canada. Russel has persistently prioritized the development and implementation of insightful, comprehensive education opportunities to guide individuals, families, and their advisors to make better decisions, gain clarity and think strategically.


Learn more about Russel and the rest of the Trella team on our About page.


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