Blending a family post-divorce is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s also been one of the most challenging. Every day, I’m learning valuable lessons about strengthening relationships, refining how we communicate, and leading my team at home. The most interesting part? Taking a step back to reflect, I’m watching the things I’m learning at home have a positive impact on my leadership at work. 

Here are some practical examples that will help you as well…

Everyone’s Voice Matters

First and foremost, in blending a family, one realizes that the number of voices in the house has increased. In my case, my kids and I added one voice, my wife and their stepmom. In others, the number of voices multiplies when a new spouse’s children are also added to the mix. Remember the last time you were in a loud, crowded restaurant where people had to talk over one another to be heard? Not feeling heard is one of the first dangers that lurk in blending a family. 

When we’re living in an environment where we feel like we need to get loud for our voice to be heard, or a space where we wonder if our voice matters, a lot of additional pressure and stress gets brought into the relationships. Being able to communicate is one of the main keys to building any great relationship, and when it’s not there, the results will show it’s missing.

The reality is this… Everyone wants to be and feel heard. If there’s any hint that someone’s voice is less important or doesn’t matter, things will unravel quickly. The tone of conversations will change with negativity and sarcasm creeping in. Or, and even worse, individuals will simply quit contributing to the family’s conversations. Either way, whether it’s more bitterness and cynicism, or a shift to silence and isolation, nobody really wins. 

Winning hinges on communication, and the belief that everyone’s voice matters. When we’re able to talk openly, and even more important listen openly, we’re opening the doors to creating a successful blended family. By simply empowering each other’s voices, we’re increasing the depth of the relationships in our home.

How this plays out at work…

You can (and should) bring this same concept to work. At the office and within your teams, communication is the single attribute that has proven over and again to make all the difference. Just like we’re blending our family at home, we’re constantly blending at work to create strong teams and engaged staff relationships. It takes time and energy, but most of all, it takes a commitment to listening and hearing the voices of those around us. Feeling and being heard is the foundation of the perfect blend.

The Majors and Minors

Even if we’re listening, and in agreement that everyone’s voice matters, that’s not a magic formula for always being on the same page. Through the lens of blending a home, if your goal is to create a family where everyone is always playing in perfect harmony, you’re going to be disappointed. It simply doesn’t work that way – and that’s an unrealistic goal. So how do you listen to everyone and deal with conflict when people disagree?

It comes down to majors and minors. In essence, it requires actively separating the things that are creating conflict, or have the potential to create conflict, into two categories: majors and minors. The majors are the things worth having a conflict over. The minors are the things that aren’t worth fighting over or for. In basic terms, pick your battles. And don’t battle over everything. 

Some things ARE worth battling over. When something lies in direct conflict with your family’s values and what you stand for, conflict is good. Or, when there’s a conflict between two family members that is creating a divide in the house, that’s a major. In most cases, the majors are pretty easy to separate from the minors – they generally stand out as being bigger and having the potential to cause more damage.

When there are majors, conflict can be good. Rather than sweeping the things we disagree on under the rug, and pretending they don’t exist, opening up the door to conversations and conflicting opinions is healthy. Dealing with the majors is a positive piece of any relationship, but it has to be done right.

Considering how we handle these majors in a healthy way, and dealing with our conflicts in a productive rather than destructive manner, requires a commitment to respect. If respect isn’t at the core of our being, conflict will separate us rather than helping us grow stronger together. Even in the midst of our differences, appreciating each individual and where they’re coming from is critical. 

How this plays out at work…

This concept of majors and minors also translates well to our workplaces. We form our teams as a collection of people who bring different, unique experiences and values to the table. Then, as a team, we’re expected to come together and accomplish amazing things. This can only happen if we’re aware of where the major and minors lie, and we pick our battles accordingly, doing so with respect and a focus on our collective mission. We’re not always going to agree, so knowing when to push back and when to compromise is essential. Just as important is doing it in a healthy, respectful way.

Something else to keep in mind, whether blending a family or leading a team, is that agreeing to simply end the conflict is not healthy. Agreement, when it’s done for the sake of shutting down a disagreement rather than working through it, actually weakens our results by preventing us from really digging into the root causes of the conflict. This may work with the minors where we step back and choose our battles, but for the majors it takes us backward instead of forward. 

We’re Better Together

The whole concept of blending reminds me a lot of making a good soup. There is a restaurant we love to frequent that makes an amazing pepperoni soup with over twenty ingredients. Trying to name all the ingredients based on their flavors is a challenge. Each ingredient changes the character of the soup, some adding some spice, others adding some savory and sweet profiles. The pepperoni impacts the flavor significantly, and a dash of cheese on top softens the experience. Each flavor plays a different role and makes the soup taste more complete.

Blending a family is a lot like this. Each personality in our house brings different and diverse insights to our family. We all add something to our experience together, and we make our family whole. If the soup was only pepperoni, it wouldn’t be soup. If our home was just one individual, we wouldn’t be a family. Each person brings their own flavor to our family, and together, we make a darn good soup.

LIke making any good soup, there’s a lot of experimenting that goes on as we’re learning what flavors work best together. We’re continually learning each other’s personalities more each day, what our triggers and tripwires are, and how we work best together. Blending is an on-going process, not something that is perfect from the very beginning. The recipe to great blended relationships is something we work to get right each day, to make sure all our flavors compliment each other and don’t compete. 

Competing flavors can take a great soup and ruin the whole batch. If one flavor overpowers another, or if there is too much of one spice, the goodness of the whole soup changes. A blended family is a lot like that. One personality, if it’s competing with the others, can change the whole dynamic of the house. And so, as we’re learning each other’s personalities, we’re also figuring out how to balance all the flavors. It’s not always an easy recipe to perfect, but each day we get a little closer. 

How this plays out at work…

Work is the same. When we take a “we” rather than a “me” approach, we win. We can accomplish more together, as a team, than any of us can alone, but it requires an understanding that we’re not competing with one another. We win together, and we lose together, and it’s our diversity that makes us stronger. So rather than focusing on our differences and what separates us, the focus needs to be on how we complement each other make our soup taste better. 

Time On

There is no way to fast-forward or accelerate the blending process in a family. It simply takes time. We refer to it as “time on” in our house, as in, time on-board together in the home. There is naturally a difference between the relationship I have with my kids and the one that my wife is creating with them. I have 13 years of time invested into their lives, and she has four. 

I’m reminded, as I step back and try to see this from the outside, that relationships are built and created over time. That building requires work and effort and getting to know one another day by day, month by month, year by year. You can’t fast-track this, or speed it up. Sure, certain experiences will draw us closer together and create bonds more quickly, but the reality is that great relationships grow. They need our attention and energy poured into them.

Over time, and only when time has passed, do we start to learn each other’s language, expectations, and how one another is wired. Until we know and understand those things, through our collected experiences, conversations, and day-to-day interactions, we’ll never truly have the relationship we want. Time on may not be what we want when we’re trying to get there faster, but it’s what we need.

How this plays out at work…

Again, this translates directly to our teams and staff. The only way to get completely comfortable with one another at work is to have time on, engaging side-by-side. Then, over weeks, months, and years, we’ll figure each other out and gain a full understanding of the areas where we excel and where we struggle as individuals within our team. I’ve worked with my two business partners for almost twenty years. Because of the time on we share, I know their strengths and weaknesses, and they know mine. This is one of the biggest business advantages we have – knowing where we fill one another’s gaps and being able to leverage each other’s super powers. 

The Takeaway

Blending is challenging for a family AND for a team. But, there are some simple things we can do and keep in mind that will help each of us approach one other in a way that makes the process go just a little smoother, allows us to grow just a little closer, and helps us to improve our results just a little more.

I’m happy to say that this is a process we’ve embraced in our home, and a process that our family is committed to. It’s also a key component to our success as a team at work. It’s not perfect, and some days are more challenging than others, but I have a fantastic wife, kids, business partners, and staff who see the good in one another even in the midst of the challenges. We are a work in progress, on our way to amazing things…