While many organisations are proud to strive for a harmonious culture that allows different personalities and work styles to thrive, this can have negative consequences when they describe the culture to be “like a family”.

Although every family is different, we typically don’t hold annual appraisals with family members or put them on performance improvement plans. Equally, we rarely speak up to family members and provide difficult feedback when their behaviour is troubling us; at least not in a healthy way.

Employees avoiding giving feedback is one of the biggest challenges facing organisations with a ‘family-like culture’. People fear that they might rock the boat and that they must choose to either be honest or respectful; but seemingly can’t speak up and do both. They also fail to consider the implications of not speaking up; what does their default future look like then?

This leads people to avoid raising concerns, big or small, because the emphasis is on everyone getting along. This can be detrimental when it stifles honest dialogue concerning behaviour or performance.

Instead of speaking up, we start to make excuses when others are turning up late, missing deadlines, behaving poorly or performing below expectations. We work around the problem rather than tackle it or gossip about that person and hold them silently accountable. This can lead to disengagement, resentment and potentially long-term conflict bubbling away under the surface. All the while, it’s not only damaging the harmonious culture you’re trying to create, but the performance of the organisation will also suffer.

However, it is possible to achieve a harmonious culture that also encourages open and honest dialogue. So, how do you speak up and hold difficult, emotionally-sensitive conversations with colleagues in a family-like culture?

  • Focus on your motive – What do you want for you, the other person and the relationship moving forward?
  • Before you start the conversation, be honest with yourself – What behaviour have you observed that is it specifically bothering you and why? How might I be inadvertently contributing to the problem?
  • Share the facts first – Leading with your interpretation on the subject of ‘why’ someone is behaving in a certain way is going to lead to an argument. State what you have observed (for example is it a one-off or pattern?) and then share your perceptions and allow them to challenge them.
  • Clarify your intentions – A CIPD survey found that the most common negative behaviour associated with conflict is a lack of respect. Respect is often lost when the other person doubts your motive and intent for holding the conversation – it’s not what we’re saying that typically upsets people; it’s why they think we’re saying it.
  • Move to action – Once you have raised your concerns, agree between you what is going to change. Who will do what and by when?

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