Family business Family business

Familial ties form the bedrock of the relationship in a family business. Clear and effective communication stands as a pivotal element in fostering joyful, robust, and flourishing familial bonds.

Globally, research suggests that families that fail to prioritize communication are at high risk of experiencing conflicts, distrust, and dysfunctional relationships. While families go to great lengths to protect themselves from outside threats, they frequently forget that one of the biggest dangers is internal failing to uphold trust and communication among family members.

Business owning families that do not resolve conflict through communication risk dangers from litigation to dissolution of the business, to the painful and dishonourable disintegration of the family. Breakdown of communication is also one of the top reasons for loss of family wealth. Therefore, good communication is one of the most important survival skills for members of a family business.

Common Communication Challenges

Family business
Family business
Family business

Unclear communication can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Therefore, it is essential to articulate expectations, instructions, and goals clearly when conversing among family members.

Family business

Need for active listening. Active listening is a communication technique where the listener attentively and empathetically engages with the speaker, seeking to understand their message and perspective before responding.

Family business

Blurred boundaries between personal and professional life can lead to chaos in certain situations when personal disagreements spill over into business discussions and vice versa. Therefore, it is essential to set clear boundaries and ensure separate communication forums depending upon the nature of discussions.

Family business

Differences in viewpoints and expectations are inevitable in any business, and family businesses are no exception. However, lack of well-defined conflict resolution process can escalate small issues out of proportion, which is essential.

Family business

Power dynamics within a family business can complicate process of communication. When certain family members assert more authority or impose themselves in decision-making, it can create communication barriers. It is important to foster an environment where all family members feel heard and respected, regardless of their positions.

Toxic Communication

Toxic patterns of communication are detrimental to the health of family relationships. One can identify them as below:


Criticism often targets a person's personality and character, often focusing on specific behaviors or problems. Constructive Criticism in relationships can be beneficial; however, conveying it in a sensitive and timely manner is necessary. Constant criticism about the same issues with an intent to put down the other person can make the relationship toxic and create feelings of hatred, anger, and disrespect.


Contempt in a relationship is a toxic and damaging attitude that involves looking down on the family member, feeling superior to them, and treating them with disrespect and disdain. It often manifests through mocking, sarcasm, eye-rolling, or making hurtful comments about their intelligence, appearance, or worth. This can create an environment of resentment, eroding the emotional connection and trust between family members.


Defensiveness often stems from feelings of insecurity or fear (resulting from past bullying or abuse), hurt caused by harsh criticism, perception of judgment or blame from others, and a sense of vulnerability.


Family members may become overwhelmed by constant criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, leading to stonewalling: It is a toxic form of communication that can damage relationships, especially family relationships. It involves refusal to communicate or cooperate with the other person. Stonewalling can include avoiding eye contact, tuning out, walking away, or refusing to talk about the issue at hand.


Ghosting is a term that refers to the practice of suddenly ending all communication and avoiding contact with another person without any apparent warning or explanation and ignoring any subsequent attempts to communicate. Generally, used in reference to a romantic relationship, but it can technically refer to any scenario where contact unexpectedly ceases, including friendships and family relationships.


Triangulation is a form of manipulation, which involves the use of indirect communication, often behind someone's back. When two people who are involved in a form of conflicting communication, there is an attempt to involve a third party.

  • Sometimes triangulation can occur without the presence of a third party, such as when a parent uses the threat of the other parent (“Wait till your dad sees what you have done!”) instead of directly expressing their own displeasure and openly communicating with their child.
  • People engage in triangulation for a range of reasons, like trying to seek reinforcement and support for one’s views: or attempting to avoid conflict and utilize another person as a deflection, etc.
  • Triangulation is unhealthy/undesirable because it does not allow discussions to happen openly and directly between the two people involved. In addition, drawing other people into the conflict generally results in broader pressures within a social group and that makes other people feel forced to align themselves with one party.

Constructive Communication Ratio

Research reveals a 5:1 ratio of “Encouraging (5) : Challenging (1)” interactions in long-lasting relationships. This balance involves constructive interactions like asking questions and being kind, while challenging interactions like criticism and hostility can lead to hurt feelings.

(Adapted from Tharawat Magazine Article: Understanding Family Business Relationships)

Ways to enhance communication


Disagreement is a natural part of any relationship, including family businesses. Having the ability to disagree with someone without taking it personally or letting it damage your relationship is a healthy sign of communication.


Look for underlying problems: When there's a conflict, it's often not about the surface issue. Instead, it's about something deeper. Take the time to explore the underlying issues so that you can address them head-on.


Create and maintain trust: Trust is essential for any successful relationship, but it's especially important in a family business. When family members trust each other, they're more likely to be open and honest with each other, even when it's difficult.


Allow others to express their emotions without restraining them: It's normal to feel emotions, both positive and negative. When family members feel comfortable expressing their emotions to each other, it creates a more open and honest environment.


Consistently communicate at all levels: This means being clear and consistent in your verbal, nonverbal, and written communication. When your communication is consistent, it builds trust and credibility.


Encourage self-confidence in others: When family members feel confident in themselves, they're more likely to be open and honest with each other. Help them to see their strengths and abilities, and encourage them to take risks.


Cultivate active listening: This means paying attention to what the other person is saying, both verbally and nonverbally. It also means being open to hearing different viewpoints and being willing to change your mind.


Don't let the past hold you back: Everyone makes mistakes. It's important to be able to forgive and forget so that you can move forward. Don't let the past hold you back from building strong relationships in the present.

Good Communication does not eliminate conflict, but it does help you manage it effectively so that it does not become poisonous, overly emotional and destructive. (Joseph H. Astrachan and Kristi S Mcmillan, 2003)

Effective communication requires commitment and practice. Family members need to be open to learning about their own communication style and be able to adapt to the communication preferences of other family members.