Gaining Credibility in the Family Business

While young people are not the only ones who have difficulty being heard in a family business, they are often dismissed more readily simply because of their age. Younger siblings and newcomers to the family business are frequently perceived by other siblings and parents as “the kid,” and, accordingly, are heard less. The knowledge that accompanies the less experienced youth is also assumed to be less valuable. The result is often a young family member who strains to be heard, and whose resentments and sense of being unfairly dismissed are understandable.


Fortunately, youth is not a life sentence. But short of waiting for time to pass, what can young people struggling to be heard in their family business do to boost their credibility?


  1. Remember that you have two ears and one mouth. By listening carefully to others before offering your own ideas, you can observe alternate points of view and how others react to them. You also gain some time to weigh differing opinions as you develop and clarify your own. Make notes as you listen to others and prepare to speak. And seek the appropriate moment to add your contribution, later rather than sooner.


  1. Seek an ally. When possible, build on someone else’s argument or position. An approach like, “Bill presented a good idea and maybe if we… (adding your own contribution),” gives you a free ride on someone else’s pre-established credibility and acceptance. If possible, try out your ideas on someone else ahead of time. This way you can test your thoughts for substance and quality and, if your test succeeds, gain the added bonus of having an ally when you enter the meeting. You could open with a shared position: “Jody and I were talking…and…”.
    Avoid getting hung up on who gets the credit. Remember that shared success beats a solo failure.


  1. Qualify your remarks. “This suggestion still needs lots of development, but…” lets others know you realize that you are not presenting a complete concept. You can also be the one to point out some of the potential errors or weaknesses in your own ideas before someone else might do it, with a statement like, “The rough numbers I’m presenting need to be reworked in greater detail and some assumptions need to be tested, but…”
    Qualified remarks can give you greater freedom for creative problem solving and even allow for some more progressive ideas.


In a family business, consensus building becomes an integral part of problem solving, frequently requiring skill development in the group process. The struggle to be heard is endemic to family business, especially if you are young. You will be surprised, however, at how quickly the application of better listening skills, alliances, and qualifiers enhances your credibility with others.


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