Q and A between a husband and wife partnership (Small Business)

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husband wife teamEveryday feels like Monday…

Steven has been a tree climber and business owner since he was 20 years old. He and I have been married and working together for the past nine years. I started working for him when I was 19 and he was 30. I am now 34 and he is 46. Needless to say, time has brought changes to us both, personally as well as professionally. And as any business owner that works with his or her spouse can attest to, the added complexity of working in the same company can test a marriage and a business. One of the key divisive factors in both is emotion. I got my husband to sit down with me and together we answered the following series of questions that pertain to just that… human emotion… in business.

What is your definition of emotion versus wisdom (in a small business perspective)?

SH: “Emotion is an impulse, a moment, and wisdom is an educated decision based on experience. Trial and error. When you’re young, out of emotion, a person will make a decision out of arrogance, an assumption.”

NH: “I can be a literal thinker, so I break the two up between home and business. At home, emotion is healthy. I’m more emotional than Steven. I think that’s natural. Wisdom is what comes with maturity. At the office, emotion doesn’t belong. Since I can be emotional personally, I see the distress it sometimes brings into my personal life. And don’t confuse emotion with creative passion or conviction. Maybe it’s semantics. To me, emotion carries a negative connotation. Like feelings.

How do these factors pertain to small business?

SH: “Our most positive moment in business is the inception (of starting a company). Emotion is an uneducated decision, normally the start of a business. Through trial and error, we learn humility and that teaches us wisdom. Wisdom knows that through mistakes is success. In other words, anyone can be good at something and anyone can be motivated by money. Heart and instinct will force a business owner to work through moments when others are exhausted, when the situation exhausts them.”

And in the home?

NH: “I think I already said my thoughts on this earlier. But, [question directed at Steven] does business really require this much internal struggle? Isn’t business supposed to be fun?”

SH: “Yes, it is. Generally, when you start a business in something, it’s because you enjoy it. But if you can no longer find joy in what you do, other parts of your life will start to suffer. You gotta make a choice about what kind of businessman you want to be. The people around a business owner are a mirror image of how that owner leads. Same thing about a marriage. A husband and wife are a mirror image of each other.”

How do these factors figure into a partnership when the two people are married?

SH: “Starting a business is just an ambition. A husband and a wife are the future. If someone is to mock me, how I run my business, how I consider business, I have to be sure of myself and I need to understand what is most important to me. When a husband and wife work together, it’s no different than two friends. They have to make sure before they start a company, to decide what is more important: ambition or the future. Ambition is synonymous with a moment, an emotion. A husband and wife are the pulse of what will make it [a company] work. Let things get out of control, we stop being a husband and wife. We become working acquaintances. What I trust the most falls apart and causes dissension.”

NH: “I completely agree. To add on to that… for me, emotion is the worst. Steven is very patient with people. I’m patient, but I’ve learned that I place limitations around who I’m patient with. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, it’s just how I’ve matured to a certain extent. What is that saying? ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ There you go. I completely lose patience for people that feel they are owed something. Now, at home… all my maturity flies out the window when I get bent about something.”

Being married and working together… is it an equal partnership?

SH: “Every company has to have a leader. That has to be decided up front. Leaders have the ability to nurture other leaders. Bosses only have the ability to hire a ‘yes’ man.”

NH: “No, it’s not equal. I agree there can only be one leader. However, there are areas of operation in this company that you aren’t [looking at Steven] good at; never have been. Those same areas were failing before we got married. Since we’ve been married, those areas have evened out. So, in relation to business acumen, yes, there can be equality. But there should only be one leader. Once that’s decided, you both have to stick to it. No going back.”

So you think there is a pecking order?

SH: “I’m a firm believer that business owners should allow ideas to be exchanged. Husband or wife, of course, share ideas. For the person that isn’t the leader, first and foremost, there has to be reward. Not always money. People want to feel they are making a contribution, recognition… when someone makes all the decisions then there is a problem. You don’t want to be a head strong junky. So you bounce thoughts off each other, but leader makes the decision and take responsibility for the decision. That doesn’t mean blaming everyone around you if it doesn’t work out.”

What useful tips would you offer to solve problems between each other, to alleviate stress?

SH: “Different apartments [laughing]. No, what do I do to handle problems and stress? Pace my thoughts. Problems start and stop with me.”

NH: “I’ve learned to push through emotional stress. That includes personal issues. I’m not always successful, but I try. A suggestion for anyone in the workplace; when you think the stress has become too much, know that you only feel those emotions because you let yourself. Push on, push through. If you’re feeling particularly weak that day, keep it to the side, then go home, read a book, and sit in your bath tub for at least two hours. Seriously, I do. Sometimes four hours.”

SH: “She really does.”

NH: “Depends on how good the book is and if the DVR is on the fritz [smiling].”

Anything else? How do you cope?

SH: “Power naps. Good for starting over. Sometimes I pull my truck over, take a 15 minute break, think my day out, and then get started again. Other times, when anger escalates, ultimately I don’t trust me. So, I’d have to pause and come back to the conversation later in the day to resolve what I’m feeling, not thinking, but feeling.”

Last modified: March 7, 2013
Nikki Hall
Nikki is the co-owner of Aspect Tree Service in Alexandria, VA. Learn about her business at www.aspecttreeservice.com


This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.

Category: Insider's perspective, MPR Authored, Small Business, Small Business Corner, small business owners

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