Relationship Issues

by Greg Nathan

last updated 16/09/2021

Greg Nathan is founder of the Franchise Relationships Institute, a renowned speaker at franchise events world-wide and author of several books on franchising.

Keeping your franchise network positive and resilient

by Greg Nathan

last updated 16/09/2021

Greg Nathan is founder of the Franchise Relationships Institute, a renowned speaker at franchise events world-wide and author of several books on franchising.

16 September 2021 - Valuable insights and tips from Greg Nathan, Founder of the Franchise Relationships Institute, based upon his recent presentation to Franchise Association of New Zealand members via Zoom

The pandemic has created significant business pressures on most franchisees, franchise executives and suppliers, and has also impacted upon people’s mental well-being and personal resilience. We really need to pay attention to this because, in addition to the personal and family stress, we’ve got substantial evidence that business and financial performance is strongly linked to how buoyant and optimistic the owner of a business feels.

How franchisees are feeling during lockdown

The following data comes from FRI’s ACE Franchisee Satisfaction Surveys of up to 2,500 franchisees – mostly from Australia but with some from New Zealand and the USA as well. 

When we ask franchisees how they are personally coping, around a third feel they are functioning well, around half are slightly stressed but functioning normally, and just over 20 percent feel the stress has been impacting on them negatively and making them less productive.

How franchisees are feeling during lockdown

I have to say, these figures are significantly better than what we are seeing in the independent small business population. My estimate at the moment is that around 40 percent of business owners in Australia are seriously stressed and struggling with the pressures and the uncertainty that they’re facing, because they don’t have the business and the social support that we provide in franchise networks.

Here's some data on how optimistic franchisees are feeling that their business will be able to adapt and grow post Covid-19. Nearly 70% are feeling somewhat or very optimistic, with around 20% unsure and only around 10% pessimistic. 

Franchisee optimism

Again, this is significantly different from the non-franchised environment in Australia, where we’ve had prolonged lockdowns in Melbourne and Sydney. Covid has really provided the franchise sector with an opportunity to shine and show what it is capable of in terms of collaborating and supporting each other. 

So, how can we boost our ability to cope with the pressures that we are all under?

The three bubbles of life

I’ve found it useful to look at our lives as comprising three bubbles:

  • Work or business
  • Personal wellbeing
  • Relationships

Imagine these bubbles are floating on the sea of life. There will usually be pressures pushing down on one or more of these bubbles. Sometimes it will be work, financial or cash flow pressures or, at the moment, the uncertainty around trading conditions. 

Sometimes it will be a sense of feeling mentally overwhelmed, or emotionally unable to cope, or sometimes it’s an unexpected physical health problem that comes along. 

And sometimes it will be a breakdown of trust in an important relationship, disappointment over un-met expectations of others, or interpersonal conflict over a high stakes issue. 

The three bubbles of life

It is unlikely that all three bubbles will be buoyant at any one time. However, because they are connected, as long as we are going well in at least one of these bubbles, this will tend to keep us afloat. You can read more on this in Chapter 14 of Greg Nathan’s book, Profitable Partnerships.

Which of your bubbles is going best for you at the moment? It’s normal during times of uncertainty for relationships to come under stress, so let’s look first at the relationship bubble.

Eight tips for managing relationship tensions 

Unpredictable and significant change will often expose existing underlying weaknesses in our relationships, especially if there has been an existing lack of trust, or people have been sitting on resentments. Here are eight tips to help resolve the issues that may arise with your family, your colleagues, or in your franchise relationships.

1.   Listen to the other person with an open mind. 

2.   Recognise what you have in common. In franchising, what we all have in common is a passion for our brand, and a passion for delivering a wonderful customer experience. If you’re having an issue, then going back to those two things and why they are important can be a good start to a conversation.

3.   Express appreciation for small gestures. That can make a big difference to how they feel, and how you feel too.

4.   If you have felt hurt, it is in your best interests to be prepared to really forgive and forget. This is not a religious thing: from a psychological point of view, when you are sitting on resentment, it burns up a lot of emotional energy and can lead to sickness and illness.

5.   Talk about niggles so they don’t build up. Conflict doesn’t appear out of nowhere – it’s usually been building up for some time. When raising an issue, take responsibility for how you are feeling. ‘I’m feeling a bit frustrated at the moment because…’ Use ‘I’ words rather than ‘you’ words – ‘you’ words are blaming the other person.

6.   Value differences and how they complete a picture. When you are working with someone who is very different to you, regard it as a chance to strengthen your empathy muscles.

7.   Focus on improving, not proving yourself – that’s what a growth mindset is about. When you set out to prove yourself during a difference of opinion, you are making the other person wrong. The antidote is to ‘hold strong opinions loosely’ – that’s something I recommend regularly to franchisees and franchisors. Have an open mind, listen to the evidence and be prepared to move our opinions based on that evidence.

8.   Be open to seeking help. Don’t be too proud to call in a facilitator or mediator to help out with a dispute.

Five mental health warning signs (for yourself or others)

Let’s move on to how you can help someone who may not be coping so well.

A person’s ability to cope with life’s challenges will always be a combination of their circumstances, plus their temperament – which is genetic ­ and the way they think about things. There should be no judgement if someone is going through a rough patch. Here are five signs that someone could be at risk of a serious mental health condition, such as depression, burnout, anxiety, or even suicide.

1.   Doing or saying things that are out of character (eg. personal habits and towards others).

2.   Persistent anxiety, anger or frustration (eg. not sleeping, or exploding over small problems).

3.   Withdrawing into oneself and not wanting to connect with others (eg. deliberately isolating oneself and being non-communicative).

4.   Not looking after oneself (eg. excessive drinking or drug use, poor hygiene).

5.   Feeling down in the dumps, cynical or overwhelmed (eg. loss of drive, seeing the bad in everything, feeling it’s all too hard).

If someone is intensely experiencing two or more of these warning signs, they would probably benefit from professional help. However, most of us are going to show mild versions of a few of these signs, and just need a little of what we call ‘psychological first aid’.  Here are some ways to provide basic emotional support.

Five actions you can take to help others

1.    Make sure you are calm and have time to listen. Our facial expressions and tone of voice have the power to change the biochemistry of another person.

2.    Ask, ‘How are you going?’ and share something you’ve noticed about their behaviour that you think seems a bit out of character. Don’t assume that your job is to fix the other person – they may not want to talk, but offering shows that you are prepared to listen and be supportive.

3.    If they do want to talk and start to open up, listen carefully, sit comfortably with silence, don’t interrupt, and occasionally paraphrase what you hear in a friendly, helpful way. It’s empathy in action.

4.    Pay attention, but remember – you do not need to give unprompted advice. People often know what they need to do but just feel stuck. When they feel understood and supported, it often stimulates the energy in them to take action and improve their situation. Most importantly, don’t dismiss their concerns or say something like ‘pull yourself together.’

5.    Make a note in your calendar to call them in a week or two. You might just say ‘I’ve been thinking about you, how are you going?’ Again, you are showing you are prepared to listen.

The power of gratitude and optimism

Gratitude is a very healthy emotion. It contributes to us having better sleep, better energy and better resilience to cope with stressful events. As Cicero said, ‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.’ 

Supportive relationships are also extremely powerful. In our research at the Franchise Relationships Institute, we found franchisees with higher levels of family and social support were achieving significantly higher levels of performance. 

Impact of family and social support

This chart shows a clear relationship between family and social support, and a franchisee’s overall performance. High levels of support potentially contribute 10 percent to a franchisee’s performance. This is an important reminder to anyone supporting franchisees that you can make a huge difference just by being in their corner for them and showing empathy. 

We have also found a clear relationship between a franchisee’s level of optimism and their overall performance. 

Impact of optimism on performance

We divided franchisees into five groups depending on their level of optimism. You can see a clear relationship between their level of optimism and their overall performance. We can say around 12 percentage points of performance are impacted by how optimistic the business owner is feeling.

There has been a lot of other research showing a strong positive relationship between a person’s level of optimism, and their level of success and performance in a range of areas – not just in business but in life – as well as their wellbeing. 

Five ways to promote optimism

Napoleon said, ‘Leaders are dealers in hope’ – and hope is another word for optimism. 

Here are five ways to promote greater optimism in others, especially your franchisees.

1.    Keep conversations solution-focused and on what people can control. Ask ‘what’ questions. What are you trying to achieve here? What would be a good first step? What can I do to support you? There can be a tendency for people to focus on the past – these questions help to get them focused on the future.

2.    Listen carefully to what's important to them and keep them informed and up-to-date on things that are likely to impact on them. Run Zoom calls regularly, ask people ‘What’s on your mind?’

3.    Name and acknowledge their difficulties – eg. drops in sales or staff shortages – while encouraging them to persevere. Acknowledging that you understand their difficulties is a practical way of showing empathy and helps people feel understood and supported.

4.    Recognise their progress and accomplishments. This is important because when people are under stress, they tend to focus on the negatives and what’s not going well. Remind people of all the great things they have achieved.

5.    Be optimistic yourself. Just as the Delta variant of Covid-19 is highly contagious, so are feelings!

A final tip

We can also maintain our own personal levels of optimism, by practising a simple technique developed by Professor Martin Seligman, who founded the field of Positive Psychology to help people stay positive and resilient in the face of challenges. It involves asking yourself before sleep, ‘What are three things that went well today and why did they go well?’

It’s like flipping a mental switch. Practising this simple, free and enjoyable technique every evening before bed, can improve your optimism and mental health.  It will help you to sleep better, focus on positive thoughts and feeling, and that means you’re going to wake up on the right side of the bed and start the new day in a positive frame of mind.

It’s also a great end of day ritual to do with your kids, sitting with them before bed and sharing together ‘Three things that went well today and why they went well.’

Greg Nathan is founder of the Franchise Relationships Institute, a renowned speaker at franchise events world-wide and author of several books on franchising.

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