Family Owned
and Operated Businesses

Dr. Patricia Munhall, N.C. PsyA, CHt
Voted "Best Of" Psychotherapists, 2004
by Family, Health and Fitness Magazine

Call (305) 461-2459
or email


Families in any context are the more challenging types of groups to work with. However, when a business is owned and or operated by a family, very complex family dynamics emerge. Highly charged areas can become difficult to navigate when there are family ties and interests involved.

Sharing and planning for these areas are essential. Decision-making authority, formal and informal power, money issues, existing conflicts, family history all call for very different negotiations if the business is to succeed. The family members need to agree on the ways and means to achieve business success. This is a task of no small consequence.

The same psychological characteristics of a family in general will of course continue to operate when doing business with one another. Family dynamics do not usually change from one setting to another. However, what is distinguishing and critical to note about families is that the dynamics have the potential in a business setting to become quite amplified, exaggerated and have a much greater influence within a family involved in a business together.

For example on a positive note, if the family members who own a business together are cooperative with one another as family members in general, this attribute of cooperation may enhance and encourage good working relationships among family members as business people in a group.

If they enjoy one another and have a sense of family camaraderie, this too can strengthen their working relationships. Yet, even with many positive family characteristics, the pressure and stresses of a family owned business can trump these positive strengths.

For instance in a business that is family owned or operated there are different rules for interpersonal relationships. Members have a different way of communicating; one that is based on the familial, instead of the more collegial model of impersonal businesses.

Familial communication allows for types of communication not acceptable in collegial communication that can influence success in good and bad ways. Some families have learned to communicate with love, respect, active listening and with the ability to compromise. Other families have learned to communicate with arguments, accusations, feelings of jealousy, distrust and dislike that actually communication breaks down and the business is threatened.

How can a business be successful if family members are engaged in competition with one another and instead of cooperation they engage and resurrect the old unresolved conflicts within the family structure? Too often we find within families separate factions who may be in conflict with one another. We have at times two warring parties that allowed to continue unfortunately often land up in a court room.

Dr. Munhall works with family business members with the same goals as with other businesses as a corporate therapist. This is described in the general corporate therapy narrative.

However other forms of therapy are critical to bring to this situation, and are based on family psychodynamic theory which addresses family history, family dynamics, family conflicts, the culture of the family, family strengths, and family communication. As with all corporate therapy, individual perceptions are paramount and are the focus of all psychological intervention. The goal of perceptual awareness is understanding how each person analyzes the situation. Without this understanding confusion and conflict continues to fester.

For a family owned or operated business to succeed, conflicts must be resolved to the extent that they do not interfere with the company’s goals, and communication based on trust and understanding must be established.

How does it work?

  • Analysis of the organization of people as a whole: Dr. Munhall attends meetings and completes group dynamics assessments. Her work is completely confidential and never communicated to anyone other than the specific individual who has been interviewed.
  • Talks to individuals to learn of their perceptions, worries, complaints, goals and any other information important to that individual
  • Assesses leader’s approach and communication skills. Analyzes the effects of particular leadership style
  • Talks with leaders and managers to learn their perceptions, worries, complaints, goals and any other information important to them.
  • Assesses stress level of individual and managers. Develops Stress Release programs for each person
  • Analysis of interpersonal communication and identifies conflicts. Conflict resolution therapy techniques are used
  • Analysis of individuals and managers strengths. Maximizes the use of strengths through counseling techniques.
  • Develops following programs: mentoring and executive coaching, conflict resolution, developing positive attitudes, sharing the goals and vision, workshops for stress, managing family and work demands, overcoming obstacles, etc

Using the steps described above, Dr. Munhall also uses another perspective and that is one as an expert in family dynamics. The approach is more intricate but the results are also more intricate. influencing not only the success of the business but the growth of family understanding and support.

Family owned business can present enormous challenges. Often in the beginning there is excitement and optimism. With a family psychodynamic approach to this specific corporate or business structure, this excitement and optimism can bloom. Or it can result in chaos and fractured relations.

The latter will doom the business. The bloom will expand and grow the business and the family, as well. With success everyone wins.

And there can be family get togethers that are happy, playful and just feel real good. You are not only a family but a winning team. Once again business can be something to look forward to building with each other. The fruits of the labor are more than the usual. The fruits of the labor are not just for one person, but for people who love each other.

Don’t let a business take away love, especially family love. That is a tragedy. Before that ever happens, gain understanding of your family members and yourself, and your business will bloom and boom!!!!!


Patricia Munhall, PhD, EdD, PsyA, CHt
Voted "Best Of" Psychotherapists, 2004
by Family, Health and Fitness Magazine

Call (305) 461-2459
or email