Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I work for a great advisory firm. We have a strong culture, our clients enjoy doing business with us and our partners treat us, the employees, with respect. It’s a family-owned firm – the father still runs it with his daughter and two sons. I get along with all of the family members and there are only five of us in the firm who are not related.

Advisory Firm

The problem is that the two sons dislike one another. They are overtly nasty and make it unpleasant in meetings when they disagree. I have suggested to their sister that they could benefit from some family counseling. But she laughs it off saying they have always been that way together. Her view is that if it doesn’t hurt the firm, what’s the harm of it? To me the harm is the uncomfortable position my colleagues and I find ourselves in. We are treated fine, and no one asks us to take sides, but we respect both advisors. It’s an affront to see and hear how they degrade each other and how difficult they can be.

I’ve thought about talking to each one separately but that’s where the family issues come in. I don’t know enough about their history together and maybe there is bad blood that goes back to when they were kids. I want them to understand that we like both of them and it’s hurtful to see them attacking each other. Do you think I should just stay out of it or could I provide some benefit if I were to intervene in their problems?

Janet B.

Dear Janet,

Relationships in business are tricky but, as you point out, family relationships in business are often very, very tricky. One thing you could consider, and you mention it in your question to me, is that families often have their own cultures and norms. These two brothers may very well have grown up by being sarcastic to one another, picking on one another and it could be that this is how they operate effectively together! What, to an outsider, could appear as disrespect or being mean, to an insider or other family member, it’s just what they do. I suspect this is going on based on the response you received from their sister when you tried to engage her help. If she laughed it off, it’s probably been going on for some time and she is somewhat immune to it.

Your note leads me to believe that the brothers are not disrespectful to you, nor are they disrespectful to others in the firm. You don’t mention them acting out against their sister, or their dad, so it would seem this behavior is a legacy of something from their childhood – some sort of competitiveness or approach they’ve developed which helps them cope with one another most effectively.

By Beverly Flaxington, read the full article here.