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I started working in the family business at the age of three, told my amused parents that I was promoting myself at the age of almost four, went on to help out in other family businesses over the following years and eventually worked with another family member in my 20s.

The thing that I always remember about my parents’ working relationship all those years ago is that they had very clearly defined roles at work.  My father was very much the boss, with my mother second in command; they both worked extremely hard and had a successful business for many years.

The thing that often fails family members and spouses that work in business together is the lack of boundaries, boundaries at work in the roles they play and boundaries between the working relationship and the personal relationship.

When you are in work, you are not family, you are a team working towards shared business goals.  When you are not at work, you are not business partners, associates or boss/employee, you are family and you are a team working towards shared family goals.  Get the lines crossed and you can fail to achieve your business and personal relationship goals.

So how do you separate the business relationship from the personal relationship?  Here are five top tips to help you.

1. Have time boundaries

Create a time for discussing work issues either just before or just after the working day if you cannot find the time in the working day to do this.  Dragging work issues into your marital relationship at home at 11pm is not sexy or fun or fair on the other person.  We all need to have a cut off from work in order to be able to relax and be most productive when we are at work.  Interrupting your own or your family member’s personal time just aggravates the personal relationship and their mental health.

2. Know which hat to wear and when

If your spouse/sibling/parent/child does seek your input in a business matter during your personal time, ask them if they are asking you as a family member or as a boss/colleague.  Answering as a boss instead of family member may cause arguments or general discontent if they were seeking your help as a loved one in their personal life.  If they are seeking your help as a business boss/colleague postpone the conversation until you are able to discuss it during working hours or your allocated business discussion time that you have scheduled in just before or after work.

3. Honour authority

Do not undermine the authority of your family member at work, work like a team, even if the power roles are reversed at home.  Honour the roles at work as you would if working with strangers.  When you don’t, you’ll hinder the business and the personal relationship you have.  Always give respect where respect is due.

4. Separate work problems from personal problems

Don’t bring your tensions and disagreements from home into your work life and vice versa.  Do what you have to in order to “get into character” just as an actor would do.  If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

5. Don’t spend too much time together in the work setting. 

Even if you work together, you don’t have to eat lunch together, have breaks together, or even be “friends” at work.  Too much time with any person can have negative effects on the relationship, no matter how strong that relationship is.  We all need time and space and we all need to see our friends and family members enough to keep the relationship alive and not so much that we become bored, or even irritated, in one another’s company.

Working with family can be amazing and traumatic.  It can bond or devastate the personal relationship.  If the personal bond is your priority and the business relationship is getting in the way, get tough on yourselves and honour the five points above.  Alternatively, consider working in different roles or altogether separately.

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