I recently broke a promise I made to my wife.  I promised I would not bring up politics at our family’s Thanksgiving Day table.  Well the conversation turned to college football and started to get heated. I quickly changed the topic and asked what everyone thought of our presidential candidate choices.  The tone of the conversation immediately calmed down.

It is amazing which conversation topics turn heated and which are seemingly too uncomfortable to bring up. But some conversations need to be had (not necessarily politics) and some are surprisingly heated (such as college football).  As we enter this season of holiday gatherings and end of year reflections, I thought it might be a good time to offer suggestions for topics of conversations that should take place no matter how heated or uncomfortable they seem to be.

Topic: Ask how coworkers and staff feel about their work environment.

I may be shooting myself in the wallet with this statement but here goes:  Business owners and CEOs too often look to outside consultants when internal staff may already have the answers.  I previously provided an example from one engagement where I moderated frank discussions between the owner and all levels of staff which produced some interesting suggestions for changes in work processes.  Implementing these suggestions resulted in significantly streamlined operations with improved efficiencies.  Try it.  You may get the same results.

Topic: Ask your accountant how the numbers look.

Your conversation with your accountant should be more than just handing him/her your books and asking when the tax returns will be ready.  As I noted in my last blog, your company’s story – past, present and future – can be found in those numbers.  And your accountant can be the story-teller.  So make an appointment with your accountant for a meeting after tax season to review your financials.  Get it on the books now.

Topic: How can I improve my business and the bottom line?

Talking with your staff will provide valuable input.  But then who do you talk to deliberate with and refine these ideas?  Deliberating in front of employees can be perceived as being wishy-washy.  And, if you’re like most owners, you’re spouse is tired of hearing it.  So who does that leave to have this conversation? Who could possibly understand your situation and your business?  Try striking up a conversation with another owner of a similarly sized business.  You’d be surprised how much you have in common, even if their business is in a different industry.  Stay tuned for a new forum where small business owners can join together as a team to support and help each other.

Topic: What comes next in your company and beyond?

For those planning to pass their family business to the next generation, when was the last time you discussed the details of this transition with all members of your family and key managers?  Even owners not in a “family business” should have these conversations, with family, about the future of the business.  There is no question that decisions about your company’s future effect your spouse.  Your children also have a stake in this decision.  Maybe one of your children is interested in taking over but hasn’t said anything yet.  Or, children living in another state may be eager for you to be closer so their children can get to know grandma and/or grandpa better.

Make a promise to yourself this holiday season to engage in more and deeper conversations.  Whether the topic is about business, personal matters or maybe even football and politics, you’re likely to find the process very rewarding.

What topics of conversation do you plan on bringing up at your holiday gatherings?