Family Business Conflict

Kent Rhodes

According to some experts, conflict is “a process that begins when an individual or group perceives differences and opposition between itself and another individual or group about interests and resources, beliefs, values or practices that matter to them”[1].  While that definition is accurate, it isn’t quite enough to accurately describe conflicts that are common to family business. 

Today, many enterprising families also collaborate in managing family offices, overseeing philanthropic endeavors through established family foundations, or sharing control of other public/ private enterprises. While all collaborations will run into their share of disagreements, the unique qualities of family at the intersection of these enterprises bring special challenges to effectively managing conflict. The dynamics that can produce conflict within a family simultaneously intersect with the challenges of owning and operating a business, introducing emotional and historical dynamics that complicate solutions and opportunities. 

It is important to bear in mind that when managed correctly, some conflicts can be beneficial – for example spurring important new ideas, innovations and energy for the business. While knowing how to manage conflict and leverage it into an advantage may not be immediately clear, and the emotional load of conflict in a family business can feel threatening – it is important not to avoid conflict, but to work to address it effectively for the benefit of the family and the business.


[1] De Dreu, Harinck, & Van Vianen, (1999). Conflict and performance in groups and organizations. In Cooper & Robertson (Eds.), International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Vol 14, pp. 369-414). Chichester, UK: Wiley.


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