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Accounting professional spouses

How to Handle Tough Business Talks With a Spouse


Running a successful accounting firm with your life partner isn't for everyone, but it's certainly possible. If this applies to your situation, there are several keys to success, especially knowing how to effectively communicate with your spouse around difficult topics. Loren Fogelman of Business Success Solution offers her top tips based on her years of experience working with her husband.

Mar 16th 2021
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Success is messy, especially when your business partner is also your spouse. I’ve worked side by side with my husband, Steve, throughout my career. Running a business with your spouse, particularly when you're in a firm leadership role, adds complexity, both personally and professionally.

Not every couple is suited to work together. And, working together doesn’t fix an already rocky marriage. Under those circumstances you may end up sacrificing your marriage. Sometimes you have to know when to call it quits and not continue working together.

As you would with any firm, expect the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe there’s a cash flow issue, you lost your biggest client, or a team member consistently makes mistakes. Are you the type of person to work through your differences together, or do you prefer to avoid difficult conversations?

Maybe you’re tempted to ignore the immediate concerns and stick with the status quo. But, resist the urge to tolerate these things. Effective communication is critical when you and your spouse work together.

Low trust and poor communication are the primary reasons for 75 percent of couples who stop working together. Therefore, communication is critical for couples who own a firm together. When we work closely with couple-owned firms, we let them know there’s no exact formula for difficult conversations.

It’s possible, however, to effectively discuss concerns. This is true whether you’re the confrontational type or the peace keeper. Regardless of your style, it’s possible to reduce tension and avoid having emotions hijack the conversation.


Tips to Handle Difficult Business Conversations with Your Spouse

1. Consider the Root Cause

Before talking with Steve about any concerns, I ask myself:

  • What’s the purpose of this conversation?
  • What will this accomplish for our business?
  • What can I do to make this a productive conversation?

Consider these three things:

A. Delivery. Avoid being blaming, passive aggressive or dismissive.

B. Timing. Figure out the best time and place to discuss your concerns.

C. Setting the tone. Focus on the outcome while remaining open-minded. 

Avoid placing blame, where one person has to be wrong for the other to be right. As partners, you’re both vested in the business.

Once you determine what you’d like the conversation to accomplish, then decide if the conversation is worth having in the first place. If so, state the root cause to your spouse and remove any hidden agenda.

2. Plan for the Conversation

You’ll probably never regret over-planning for anything, but under-planning? That’s a different story. As you know, difficult conversations can go south very quickly. Planning and mindfulness minimize the possibility of emotions hijacking the conversation, turning it from productive to totally destructive.

On the other hand, avoid scripting the conversation. It’s okay to create talking points. Remember, this is a conversation and not a speech.

3. Avoid an Accusatory Tone

What if your spouse is the cause? It’s possible they are doing something you don’t agree with. An outright accusation puts your partner on the defensive. Instead, set the intention for an open conversation instead of a confrontation.

What does it sound like to be open with your spouse? Language is everything!

Say things like:

  • How can we work on this together?
  • What will turn this around?
  • This is a concern to me because…

Avoid accusations like You need to do better or You need to clean up the mess you made!

When you approach anyone in an accusatory way, spouse or not, it immediately halts all progress. An open conversation becomes difficult when the other person is on the defensive. At that point, communication breaks down. 

4. Acknowledge Your Spouse’s Perspective

Whether you’re revisiting a difference of opinion or raising a new concern, your spouse may not share your viewpoint. Solutions, along with new opportunities, unfold when you aim for a dialogue rather than a mandate.

A difficult conversation should be exactly that: a conversation. Be open to your spouse’s perspective. That sends the message that this conversation is truly a two-way street.

5. Be Constructive – Suggest Solutions and Alternatives

A difficult conversation shouldn’t leave anyone hanging. No one likes a one-sided discussion where they are blamed for a mistake but not given any corrective insights. If there’s a problem, a solution or an alternative should always be a part of the equation.

A great way to wrap up a difficult conversation is to say something along the lines of, "How do we work together to remedy this? I’ve come up with x,y and z suggestions…do you have any thoughts?"

This might not work in every scenario, but you get the idea. Offer your suggestions, and ask your spouse for theirs, too.

Bottom Line: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Your spouse is not a mind reader. How often do you get upset about something, never bring it up, expect your spouse to know you’re upset and when that doesn’t occur – you pout?

We’ve all experienced this or done it ourselves. Don’t do this to your spouse! If something is bothering you, don’t let it fester. Share what’s on your mind. And, encourage your spouse to do the same for you.

Communicating regularly is important in every business endeavor, but even more so for couples who co-own an accounting firm.

Whether you keep your personal and business lives separate is up to you. Overall, effective communication (and lots of it) plays a big role in reducing tension and maintaining marital harmony. My marriage with Steve is stronger because we work together, not in spite of it.

Remember this: One day, it could be you in the proverbial hot seat, and you’ll want your spouse to treat you with respect. Establishing ground rules for difficult conversations strengthens your partnership – personally and professionally. Claim your FREE Resource now for couples to grow a profitable accounting practice together.

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