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Life Lessons From Sticky Family Situations

I’ve heard that having expectations is the mother of all disappointments and I agree with it, except when they’re not.  A friend of mine, Matt (name has been changed to ensure my safety), recently ran into a sticky situation that we’ve all probably fallen into at least once.

Matt was in need of a tradesman to complete some home renovations. He was working full time and had a baby of three months at home.  He knew he didn’t have the time to do the work himself and he prioritised his family and job higher than paying a professional.  Matt happened to be talking to his dad about the renovations and his dad offered to do the work as he had some spare time.  Matt’s first instinct was that this wasn’t the best idea, he knew he was time poor, under pressure with work and all the stresses of a new baby and he just wanted to pay a professional so wouldn’t have to worry about anything.

His father, however, was insistent and with that Matt felt he was ‘made’ to feel a sense of obligation to his father.  After a few discussions he agreed to give the job to his dad but he had a heavy feeling in his chest, one that he had felt in the past when he did something he would later regret.

Matt’s dad had no hesitation and was very keen to do the job. He thought it would be great to spend some time with Matt and it was a good chance for them to bond over a bit of DIY.

Once Matt’s dad began the job, problems quickly began to arise on a number of fronts.  Firstly, the job was a lot bigger and more complex than he had appreciated. With this realisation he felt out of his depth, which lead to the second issue.  Matt’s dad wanted to spend time with his son and he started to pressure Matt to help him after work and at the weekend.  This was exactly the reason Matt wanted to hire an independent contractor; he didn’t want to do any renovations and he wanted the time outside work to spend with his family.

This lead to the third issue. With Matt now working full time and helping his dad in his ‘spare’ time, he was not available for his family which resulted in his wife feeling under even more pressure to care for their home and new baby.  When Matt was home he felt so exhausted that he and his wife were frequently getting into arguments.  It fast became a downward spiral.

Most of us have learnt over the years that it can be a minefield to mix business with family and friends.  When Matt ignored his reservations and gave the job to his dad, he opened himself up to many negative consequences that he did not anticipate.

Key learnings from this common situation:

1. Expectations.  In business agreements it pays dividends later on to clearly lay out your requirements and your expectations up front.  If Matt had clearly communicated the scale and scope of the job with his dad from the beginning, and had explained that he had no time to help with the job then his father would have had very different expectations and may have decided that he did not want the job at all.

How to ensure clear expectations

a. These are my requirements.

b. These are my expectations.

c.What are your requirements?

d. What are your expectations?

e. What gaps in our expectations are there?

2. Obligation.  Matt felt like he had a sense of obligation to his dad.  Often the feeling of obligation is heaviest with those we care about the most. However, once we peel away the layers, are we really obliged or is it a false sense of responsibility?  Would communicating openly and authentically actually serve everyone more?

3. Awareness.  Having a wider awareness of the flow-on effects from giving his dad the job would have helped Matt to stand strong on the decision that would serve him and his family best.

4. Intuition.  When Matt decided to give the job to his dad he felt a heavy feeling in his chest.  This was his intuition giving him a signal. Learning to notice the signs and signals of your intuition is a fantastic early warning system in any situation.

With clear and open communication Matt would have delivered a crystal clear picture of exactly what was expected and required for the job.  This clear communication would have set the boundaries of what was required to ensure all parties went in with well-defined expectations.

At Altris, we know how shining the light on your feelings of obligation, expectations and ways of communicating pays dividends to your success and happiness.  Just like this situation between Matt and his dad, the clearer communication and expectations are, the better the results.


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