Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @AskVasavi. Vasavi Kumar is a certified life coach, transformational speaker, and business-savvy entrepreneur who combines direct, down-to-earth insight and genuine passion for her clients. To learn more about Vasavi Kumar, visit her website: vasavikumar.com
SmallBizLady: What’s the one thing you’ve found absolutely necessary for spouses/partners to be able to work together?
Vasavi Kumar: It is absolutely necessary to be able to communicate about what is happening in the moment. No low blows, no fighting dirty, bringing in the past, no name calling. If you want to work with your spouse/partner you have to keep it real with yourself and with each other. Often times there will be problems communicating in the marriage and neither one will admit this and continue to get into business together. This isn’t to say that spouses/partners cannot work together. There needs to be a certain level of honesty with oneself and the other in order to effectively work together.
SmallBizLady: How do you maintain professionalism in front of other employees or clients yet still show that you care about each other?
Vasavi Kumar: There needs to be a clear understanding of the boundaries between home and work. Clearly if you need acknowledgement of the fact that your spouse/partner cares about you in front of employees or clients or at work, then you are not being acknowledged at home. That being said there are a few things to show that you care for one another. For example, tone of voice makes a huge difference in how we interpret everything. Also, talk to your spouse/partner and maybe set up a few minutes in the workplace to reconnect as a couple. My honest opinion though is to keep it separate. Like I said before, if you need that kind of attention at the workplace, then the focus should be on communicating clearly what your needs are and get them met at HOME.
SmallBizLady: What should you NOT do when working with a spouse/partner?
Vasavi Kumar: What you should NOT do when working with a spouse/partner is cross the line. By crossing the line, here is what I mean – everyone has their “genius lane’. This is the lane in which an individual is super strong or well skilled. What you shouldn’t do is cross over into that lane. Let your spouse/partner do his/her thing. Another thing you should NOT do is bring in home issues to the workplace. This is so important to the success and energy of your business. It will also set the tone for everyone around you. If you are the boss of your company, then your employees will get that it’s “OK” to bring in home drama into the workplace.
SmallBizLady: How much leeway do you give a spouse/partner for missed deadlines, subpar work, etc.?
Vasavi Kumar: You would give your spouse/partner as much “leeway” as you would with anyone else for missing deadlines and subpar work. Problems start to occur when there is differential treatment. Once again, the key here is communication. Just like you would communicate to your staff what the expectations are, you would do the same with your spouse/partner.
SmallBizLady: How do you separate your home and work lives?
Vasavi Kumar: Great question. Your home and work relationship are two completely different entities, and by default will have different dynamics. There are definitely different hats that you have to wear when at home versus work. The most important thing is to not carry over work issues into the home and home issues into work. For example, if your spouse forgot to take out the garbage, it’s not appropriate to bring your annoyance into the workplace. Likewise, if your spouse forgot to answer an email or missed a phone call, you can’t punish him/her at home. The best thing is to be conscious of these different roles and not to mix the two. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. It takes practice, communication, and commitment. Over time you and your spouse will get into a nice groove.
SmallBizLady: Everyone needs a little space sometimes. How do you find “alone time”?
Vasavi Kumar: Alone time is necessary whether or not you are working with your spouse/partner. It is entirely up to you when you want to spend time with yourself. Put it in your calendar and stick to it. When at home, set aside time to be with yourself and honor that time. When at work, get away for a few minutes during lunch and be with yourself. Ultimately the choice to plan and stick to “alone time” is up to you. Alone time is especially important if you work with your spouse/partner, so make sure that you put aside the time to just focus on you and recharging your battery.
SmallBizLady: When you work in the same business, how do you find ways to distinguish your individual identities?
Vasavi Kumar: This is a very common question. The fact is, when couples work closely it can often be difficult to maintain a sense of individuality. Remember that you are your own person with your own thoughts, feelings, and interests. This goes back to making sure you have enough alone time, even if it’s just to be with your thoughts. Take time to have lunch on your own. Be sure to set up separate social calendar time. Drive to work separately. The most important thing is to get clear on what sets you apart, and what your individual needs are AND getting those needs met.
SmallBizLady: How do you deal if one spouse/partner is better at the business than the other?
Vasavi Kumar: Play to your differing strengths. Of course there are going to be areas where your spouse/partner is better than you. That’s ok!! There are areas that you are better. Focus on your strengths and mastering them and allow your spouse to do the same. I will say that having a third party professional manage the finances would be the best idea especially since money can be a sensitive topic.
SmallBizLady: If one spouse/partner wants to leave the business or move on, how do they reconcile that with their relationship?
Vasavi Kumar: The struggle to stay or go is epic. Think about it, the business has been built by both of you (or by senior family members and now being passed on from generation to generation). On the one hand you think, “I’m making good money, I’ve been a part of this business for so many years…” and the other part of you thinks, “I can’t be here another second longer.” So now what? There is definitely a process that you can use to gracefully leave the business and move. It’s important to remember these key points:
-Distinguish yourself from the business. Many emotions will surface throughout this process. You are an individual – not a business. Your identity is not wrapped up in you being a part of the business. Clearly stated, you are not your business. Your needs as an individual come first when making this decision. Focus on that.
-The next step is to create a plan for yourself. What is it that you truly want? You definitely want to be clear about what you are moving towards versus wanting to just get out of the business with no direction. Determine the steps that you have to take and where you want to be headed once you leave the business.
-Communicate, communicate, communicate!!!! I promise you that this conversation will be scary and uncomfortable. But what makes this process even harder, is if you keep it in and don’t share what is going on internally. With that being said, manage your guilt, blame, and finger pointing. No one is at fault here. When you start going down a road of blaming others and feeling guilty, the end result is resentment and inauthenticity.
-Stay in integrity. A decision like this may happen suddenly but be responsible for the word that you have given. With that being said, honor your commitment and don’t leave the business hanging. Be prepared to help hire someone new. Honoring your word is the number one rule for success so put aside your ego regardless of the situation be willing to help out.
SmallBizLady: Who makes the final decision in cases where you disagree on how to deal with a customer?
Vasavi Kumar: The fact of the matter is: companies that focus on excellent customer service thrive. It’s important to get on the same page with your spouse/partner and entire team about the level of customer service that is expected. With that being said, the only thing that ultimately matters is what customer wants. Take a look at Nordstrom. Nordstrom focuses on training their 35,000+ employees on providing superior customer service. So the goal here is to get on the same page about how you want to deal with customers. If your business places customer service as the ultimate goal of the company then there really won’t ever be any disagreement if you are all on the same page about providing excellent service, REGARDLESS of the situation. Anything and everything can be handled with grace and ease through effective communication – whether it is with your spouse/partner, employees, and customers.
SmallBizLady: How do you make a family constitution (which lays out clearly the responsibilities and benefits of each spouse/partner) without affecting your personal relationship?
Vasavi Kumar: Make a list of your strengths and areas of improvement. My opinion is to work on making your strengths stronger and hiring someone that can take over the areas of improvement. One of the top reasons why business ventures with your spouse/partner don’t work is because there is a lack of clearly defined roles AND the discipline to not overstep those boundaries.
SmallBizLady: If it just doesn’t work out, what should come first: relationship or business?
Vasavi Kumar: Marriage comes first. You both have made a commitment to support one another “till death do you part.” Business will come and go but at the end of the day your spouse is your partner by choice. If you have tried all of the strategies listed above and working together still isn’t running smoothly, the most important thing is to protect your marriage. Go to a marriage therapist and work out the communication that is holding you both back from operating successfully in your marriage and work. If that doesn’t work then it may be time for one of you step away from the business. If you are operating a home based business then it may mean that one of you needs to get an outside office space. Finding a solution to that will nurture your relationship and protect your business is crucial.
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