By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.
“How can I help my Dad? He is part of a family business that he inherited from his father. Now Dad and his brother run the business, except that my Dad does all of the work. Dad is stressed all of the time but doesn’t want to disrupt the family. I’d like to come to work for my Dad but I don’t want to be part of carrying my lazy uncle. What should I do?”
This was the first problem ever presented to me when I hosted an Internet Chat for members of family firms. We “chatted” for about an hour, via our computers and covered a lot of territory. Even though the young man who contacted me lived on the East Coast, he was able to get expert advice on the precise subject he needed help with because he was comfortable searching the World Wide Web. And by the tone of his messages, he was pleased by the end of our hour to have a plan of action to present to his father.
This new medium of e-consultation is ideal for all business owners, but especially family business members. A son can’t always call up his father’s accountant or attorney and talk over such problems. He is not likely to feel brave enough to confront his uncle or even his father on such a touchy subject. He could hire his own local consultant or psychologist, but isn’t likely to find a local expert on families in business. But from the comfort and privacy of his home, he can “surf the web” until he finds just what he needs. In this case it was a psychologist whose specialty is helping families in business solve those sticky problems that cross over from loving relationships into the business marketplace.
E-consultation is ideal in many other ways as well. It’s tailor made for travelers and those of us who work odd hours. You can get on line anywhere, anytime. The convenience means that you will probably take advantage of the service more often and get to the bottom of the problem faster. In fact, a study at Johns Hopkins University found that people open up more quickly using a computer than they do face-to-face with a psychologist. E-consultation may attract those who are too embarrassed to bring a problem up fact-to-face or it may just be that they can ask the questions when they come up, rather than having to wait for an appointment.
As a psychologist for many years I have encouraged my clients to educate themselves about life’s problems by reading books and articles. Now in addition to some excellent books, I recommend highly regarded websites. Ignorance about life slows you down. Educating yourself helps to reduce your fears and defensiveness. With knowledge you are in a much better position to problem solve. With knowledge comes confidence and with confidence comes creativity and with creativity, options and solutions start to materialize. It seems to me that the World Wide Web provides us with a wealth of information in a convenient form that can shorten your problem solving time.
Of course there are downsides to this form of consultation too. How do you know who you can trust? Is your e-mail or chat confidential? In addition to a wealth of helpful advice, there is a wealth of garbage and damaging material on the Internet. The surfer does have to beware. You can’t assume because someone has a website that they are honorable, legal, credentialed, caring or experienced. However, if you use the same common sense you use in business to size up any person or situation, I think you can sort the wheat from the chaff.
For example, on both of my websites, I not only provide a lot of information on the common issues that families in business face, but I include all of my credentials, extensive information on confidentiality, and several ways to contact me for more information to check on my background. If you are not going to meet the person face-to-face or you do not have a personal referral from someone you trust, take the time to read what the consultant has posted on their website about their qualifications.
If you are still shy about accessing the World Wide Web for information take the plunge. As a business owner you need the Internet to stay alive and ahead of the competition. You already know that. Now consider using the services of websites to keep yourself up to date on more personal issues such as those vexing problems of keeping a healthy balance between your work and your home life.