5 Communication Barriers that Stall the Sale of Businesses

Why Men Attempt to Avoid Emotional Conversations

Communication Barriers that Stall the Sale of a BusinessStereotypes exist because somewhere along the line many people within a group behaved in a similar way. Consider male business owners as one of those groups. The stereotype of men showing a lack of emotions may not be accurate for all male business owners, but when it is, it can be problematic at the time of selling the business.

On the other side of the table are the merger and acquisition (M & A) professionals. Generally male as well, their skills lie in having good business conversations around valuations and numbers. While the two sides can easily banter about numbers such as assets, liabilities, margins and profits, many leave the personal or emotional aspects of the sale off the table. Unfortunately, this lack of personalized communication is likely to create roadblocks.

Without discussion about the emotional aspects, the business owner’s personal journey through succession planning or exit strategy planning may not be as well understood or clear as the sale process. When the emotions or insights behind the motivation to sell are vague, moving a sale along to finality may not be as easy as thought.

Trouble can easily arise when sellers aren’t confident in their decision that it is the right time to sell. This is especially true if the change has been suggested by spouses, family members or a management team. If ownership and leadership adjustments are forced because of fear, poor health or mortality realizations, business owners may not follow through on the sale.

Personal transitional planning is an integral piece of the business succession plan. The future options might be plentiful and owners can choose to sell to family, strangers, management, private equity or corporations. Regardless of who buys the business, the goal is to prepare it for a successor and to set up the best personal exit possible for the owner.

The sale and all its requirements are usually straight-forward:

  • Focus on the business and valuation to prepare it properly for selling
  • Ensure financial aspects are clear and maximized for best profits
  • Create proper documentation for clarity and solid negotiations
  • Prepare legal and tax components with detail and thoroughness

Often straight-forward, these four steps are not as simple as they sound. They can take far longer than expected and create a domino effect of smaller steps. This is why business owners call upon the expertise and experience of M & A professionals. They are the gurus of business selling and buying.

What is often overlooked however, are the many reasons and rationales behind a seller’s statement, “I need to sell my business”. In a male dominant world of M & A pros and Boomer generation business owners, the ability to dig deeper behind “the need” and to gain clarity on a personal level to explain why this may or may not be the best decision or timing, is often avoided.

Here are five barriers that usually get in the way of men having good investigative and personal conversations to explore seller readiness:

  1. Man-Speak
    Guy talk is a well-researched and documented phenomenon. It is characterised as short, to the point and usually solution-focused. Men say what needs to be said – no more, no less. Tone is masculine and context is relevant to current events, work or sports. Asking about the psychological or emotional issues behind a business sale is avoided and deemed unnecessary because it is not within the parameters of man-speak.
  2. Safe Zone
    Traditionally, men are thinkers and doers. Often, they are also logical, rational and analytical—characteristics they relate to their business success. For many male business people, the act of displaying or discussing emotional aspects isn’t necessary. The touchy-feely stuff is not in their comfort zone and they don’t know what to do when emotions, relationship stories and difficult feelings come up. The tendency is to avoid these topics or rush through them because they are outside their safe zone.
  3. Wheelhouse Restrictions
    Male conversation is not always about talking. It is fine and acceptable to have silence with time to think as part of the interaction. Asking questions about difficult topics or uncomfortable issues is usually not attempted because it is not in their wheelhouse. If the sale conditions look good, why bring up any negative issues or unpleasant relationship troubles? Best not to open a can of worms.
  4. Respond How?
    The avoidance of emotional topics is not new and actually has its roots in male logic. If an emotional question is asked, what are men supposed to do with the answer? Respond with more emotion? Give a hug? Hand over a Kleenex? The ability to respond appropriately with equal care, concern and support is not always within an M & A professional’s realm of expertise. And, by not instigating conversations with difficult touchy-feely questions, any discomfort on their part, is nicely avoided.
  5. Business Variables
    Selling a business is all about the P & L, EBIDTA, valuation, SDE and other concrete terms and measures. The seller’s feelings, emotional rationale or relationship issues aren’t usually on the radar of legal, accounting or equity professionals. Those topics are meant for home and family. M & A professionals might be of the mindset that since many past business transactions have gone through successfully without these emotional variables, they’ll only discuss them if absolutely necessary such as when the seller instigates the conversation.

From a completely stereotypical viewpoint, it’s common to witness these signs in male-dominated industries and business ownership sectors. Often, men are not comfortable or confident when emotions, psychology and relationship issues enter the business selling arena. Whether it’s genetics, reluctance, lack of skills or pure discomfort, when sellers are not given the opportunity or invitation to share the rationale and insights behind the sale, then their motivation might not be clear. A seller’s silence can stall seemingly clear-cut deals because their emotions around the sale could be mysteriously laden with fear, resentment, imposed guilt or an undisclosed ultimatum.

This is when our phone rings because a turnaround is needed. The emotional aspects have silenced the seller and nothing will progress in the sale until these topics are shared, explored and resolved. We turn back the clock on the sale so seller motivation and insights are managed. Our expertise lies in understanding the seller and his situation to create a personal plan which defines his exit strategy. This leads to a successful transition for the entire company and ultimately, a close to the transaction.

There are 10 essential questions that M & A professionals can ask to understand the seller’s situation, readiness and motivation. If you aren’t comfortable or confident to go down the emotional road with your seller, don’t go it alone. Get a hand to manage the emotional change and transition for the business owner so your business sale can proceed seamlessly and successfully. Fill out the short form below and we’ll send them to you to help you get familiar with them:

If you experience those moments when conversation is difficult, the topics create unease and you are baffled with what to say, contact us to help manage the stress. We are ready to take on those tough conversations and ask personal questions to get the transaction back on track and closer to successful completion. Contact us at 604-349-8660 or pam@strategytoexit.com or learn more about our Exit Success Program.

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