The next time you’re in a state of disbelief—or shock—over the business crises that are quickly erupting around you, ask yourself what your mother would do. Apparently, women have a unique skill in business according to one business expert. As a biased professional, I also agree. Avoiding crises and dealing with them is a skill that women execute very well. Nigel Nicholson is a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School. He knows a great deal about business crises and conflict in business, especially family businesses. How does he know? He wrote a book about it. It’s called Family Wars. He says that women can have a unique role in business that makes them well suited for avoiding greater conflicts in business.
Here’s how family businesses run amok. Conflicts arise from a variety of situations. Egos are bruised when one family member thinks he is being treated unfairly. Arguments arise over business ownership—and that’s whether or not there is a succession plan. Withholding information produces “bad gossip” within the company that destroys the company culture, working relationships and productivity. If you’re thinking that sounds like non-family businesses, too, you’re right. That’s where women come in.
Nicholson says, “It’s unfortunate that women aren’t more involved in family businesses.” Why? He says that they have an intelligence that men don’t have. They’re good listeners and they have teamwork skills. In those roles, women function as a Chief Emotional Officer. The role is desperately needed in some family companies as well as in business in general.
Obviously, in the family firms that were at war in Nicholson’s book, the women were not doing the job of Chief Emotional Officer very well. One such description of the U-Haul family business is especially outrageous. Their dysfunctional family fights over leadership and company shares at a board meeting. Their verbal fighting becomes a fist fight involving the CEO and the Chairman. The fight results in a hospital stay for one of the family members who got caught up in the fighting. That’s not your average day at work. Yet, conflicts that do occur are an every day business reality. That’s where women’s skills are so needed.
Nichols says that instead of these war-like, emotional behaviors that sabotage businesses, business leaders should have someone to listen to them to reframe their concerns more objectively. Listening is an active process which can address people’s feelings as facts. That ultimately neutralizes many dangerous situations. Women’s good listening skills could help those war-like business people who perceive events too personally instead of seeing them more broadly. This reframing could de-escalate the emotions and result in the business professional’s greater self control and discipline.
So the next time you see conflict starting to rear its ugly head in business, ask yourself what would your mother do. When feelings are hurt, doesn’t your mother lend an ear and try to make things better? By listening at work, you can prevent crises from erupting into greater chaos and destruction. Your listening just might produce a more productive environment that’s somewhat family-like at your business—just not the families that Nicholson describes.