It’s More Than Just a Semantic Difference

Sometimes the vocabulary one uses can make a big difference in how their message is received, and I’m one of those people who pay attention to such details.

I hope that I can illuminate a few things here this week that readers will find useful, as we look at one particular distinction that I’ve come across on a number of recent occasions.

Of course you could argue that changing a word or two here and there shouldn’t change much, but I beg to disagree.

I think that if you spend enough time repeatedly reinforcing certain messages over the long term, it can make a huge difference.

Let’s get started so I can show you what I mean.

Not Everything Is a Problem – Yet!

First off, I want to acknowledge that most people don’t pay as much attention to these things as I do, and that likely makes me the abnormal one.

When it comes to issues and problems, some people use the terms interchangeably in many situations, and it’s usually not a big deal.

But when you’re working with family members who own and run a business together, sometimes the little things can trip you up and eventually become big things.

So to me, an issue is a situation that I think requires attention, now or soon, so that we can get out in front of it as things develop, with the hope that we can make adjustments before things turn into a problem.

I’ll give a couple of FamBiz examples a bit later, but for now there are a couple of other nuances I want to cover.


Whose Problem Is This, Anyway?

There are many situations that are clearly a problem for one person, but for someone else, even part of the same family, that same situation may not even register as a minor concern.

This can be critical, because when someone in a family is suffering from a problem, sometimes their best hope of getting any support only comes when the others recognize the problem as requiring attention.

Of course in a family business, sometimes one person’s problem is directly caused by another family member, but that’s a whole other matter for another blog post.

I just want to put out there that sometimes a problem only exists for some and not all, and that can make things both easier or more difficult to surmount, depending on the particular details.


Spotting the Issues in Advance

When it comes to being able to spot issues before they become problems, it’s usually easier for an outsider, who’s not a part of the family, to notice things that could eventually go awry.

A person who has worked with other business families may have seen analogous situations and patterns that give them the benefit of some experience in predicting where things might eventually trip up another family.

I’ve worked with people specifically to help them “see around the corner” so that I can help them avoid making some predictable mistakes.

I’ve worked with others where I had to constantly warn different family members from saying certain things to others because I knew that they would be poorly received by the others. 

Sometimes I’d shake my head and wonder why they couldn’t see these things themselves, but then I’d realize that that was why they had hired me!


Serving the Ones Who Hire You

Speaking of hiring me, sometimes when interviewing with a family, you learn about situations that you can already predict will become problems in the future, but that the family does not even recognize as an issue they should be thinking about.

But if they end up choosing not to work with me, well, what am I supposed to do? I serve the people who hire and pay me, and not everyone does that.

One such family changed their ownership percentages by branch to favour the sibling running the operations, and then a few years later that sibling announced their retirement plans. 

Seems like that issue could quickly become a problem.


Watch Your Language!

The final point I want to share is that sometimes labelling something a problem makes things worse

For example, it’s much softer for me to say “I have an issue with such and such” than saying “I’ve got a problem with that”.

And in family situations, softer almost always works better.