Listen to BFF Co-Chair Nan-b de Gaspé Beaubien explain her experience of welcoming in-laws into the business family, and especially in family meetings. When welcoming in-laws, it is important to make them feel as respected as your own children. In a family business, the opinions, ideas and overall contribution of in-laws often end up benefiting the long-term success of the business.
I think the biggest challenge is when your child gets married and brings a new person in, because that new person comes in cold to a family that already has a language of their own. Whether we realize it or not, every family has unwritten rules, and we do not ever put them out on the table and talk about them, but they are there. And so, when a newcomer comes in, they come in with their unwritten rules. They also come in with their values, the way that they look at the world, and it might be very different from your family. So, how are you going to adjust to that? How are you going to make that person feel part of your family and that they feel that their values and their way of looking at the world are just as respected as with your own children? Because the whole idea behind this is to build trust. You have to build an emotional bank account with these newcomers. It is going to take time and patience, and you have to again give up your own ego, because you have to be able to listen to them, and you know what? They are going to have some good ideas. It starts with the attitude that the person takes, because you do not have to be a good communicator, but you have to have an attitude that says, “I accept you, and I want you to be really a true, open, whole member of this family.” and I think once you do that, then it makes all the difference. Then the person can open up, because they realize that they can become vulnerable. You are not going to hurt them. You are going to respect them and their point of view. You are not going to find a daughter-in-law who is going to fall in love with you the first sight. I remember our daughter-in-law was the first member to come into the family from the outside, joined us for family meetings, and I thought I did a pretty good job. I thought that you know, I would ask everybody’s opinion beforehand, what did they want on the agenda, how we would go about this? And everyone got a chance to speak so I thought, you know, I was doing pretty well. So I asked her, “What do you think?” And she came back, she said, “Well, they are okay but you know what, we do not have much fun at them.” I was kind of, “Whoa!” a dash of cold water on me, and I realized, “Boy, I have a long way to go,” and she was right, because we are very much a business family. All of our children have gone and gotten their degrees in business, and I thought, “She is right. I have not made it much fun.” Our children are used to this, but nobody else would be, so I said, “Ok, I am going to name you VP of Fun and for every family get together that we have, that is your job. And I will give you the budget, and you can put together some fun things,” and she has done a great job. So by including the newcomer, we all got better, because the meetings were more fun. My daughter in-law helped me a great deal, so she prepared the path for the ones that followed. I learned that I have to adjust my temperament to the new person coming in, because it is not going to go the other way. I have to let go of my ego and try and get close to them, and is it worth it? Yes it is. It really is. Again, as we build that emotional bank account, we are also, we are saying, “I respect you. I respect you in all your wholeness not just one part, I accept you for who you are,” and that is when we can start to develop trust, and without trust we have nothing. So it is worth it, but it does take time and patience.