Tag Archives: Lansky

Three Attributes of Trust

David Lansky
David Lansky

Working well together, sharing assets fairly, planning collaboratively for the future – these are among the most critical tasks of an enterprising family. They all have in common a fundamental basis in trust.

In my experience, families who are able to sustain a culture of mutual trust, seem to adhere to three basic elements, whether intentionally or not:

  1. Family members are reliable. They do what they say they will do.
  2. They demonstrate feelings of intimacy. They care about each other and they like being together. 
  3. They are honest with each other. They have open, direct communication — they are willing to speak and to listen when difficult things need to be said.

These elements might come naturally to some, and might need to be learned by others. Either way, trust is something that is built over time.

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Effective Strategies for Avoiding and Managing Family Conflict Questions and Answers

On September 21, 2011 the Family Business Consulting Group held a live webinar titled Effective Strategies for Avoiding and Managing Family Conflict.  David Lansky was the presenter for this program along with Carol Ryan acting as the moderator.  Below are a few of the questions presented by the audience during the live program.  If you missed the program and would like to listen to the on-line replay you can download the program using this link.  http://eventcallregistration.com/reg/index.jsp?cid=600t11pk#od  Future FBCG webinar programs are listed at this link.  http://www.efamilybusiness.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=AudioConference&MatterID=40

Q. How do you break negative habits?

A. Often conflict can result from repetition of negative communication habits. Provided all parties agree that they want to change their negative habits, creating opportunities to practice new behaviors can be helpful. Sometimes agreeing on a signal (“pulling your ear lobe”) that indicates that the bad habit is being exercised can help increase awareness and create an opportunity to practice a new behavior.

Q. Does “divorce” count as a cut-off and thus make it more likely that other cutoffs will happen in succeeding generations?

A. This is a good question. I think the answer depends on how the divorce is managed in the family. Some divorces do not impose a cut off, communication continues between the parties and may be encouraged. However, when one or more parties to a divorce expect other family members to stop communicating with an exiting spouse, this can result in all of the destructive consequences that come from other types of cut off.

Q. How do you communicate to the other person so the other person will listen?

A.As I mentioned in the webinar, the very best way I know to get someone to listen to you is by listening to that person.

Q. What happens when someone says they are a failure because you don’t agree with them?

A. I would ignore the comment. He/she is entitled to that opinion. The real question is how will we resolve our disagreement?

Q. With regard to destructive entitlement what if the injustice is merely perceived – not a true injustice?

A. It is ALWAYS a matter of perceived injustice, since what is “real” to one party may be trivial to another. As a beginning, I would take the perception very seriously and spend a lot of time listening and seeking to understand the other party’s perceptions.

Q. How do you recommend resolving this conflict across generations of siblings and next generation – One sibling creates conflict and fights to force fairness for her kids, speaks for them, creates special opportunities for them.  When the next gen kids haven’t earned what the parent is fighting for like their next gen cousins who did it on their own and who then become resentful.  The other siblings try to avoid the conflict by ignoring it. Is there a way to handle this without a third party facilitator?

A. Excellent question and a very difficult situation. There are elements here of over-protectiveness and triangulation. I would guess the overprotective party thinks that she is the victim herself of injustice, resulting in destructive entitlement. Can this be resolved without a third party? It would be very difficult.  I would expect a third party to bring an objective trusted perspective that is not perceived as interfering with parental rights.

Q. Is there a way to successfully transfer an asset (business) to two family members who will share power or is this a recipe for disaster?

A. It is certainly possible provided the parties agree before hand on how power will be shared: Who has authority over which issues? How will decisions be made? What if we are deadlocked? If these things are not addressed before hand the chances of disaster are vastly increased.

Q.  Were you suggesting that one listens better (or less effectively)-or more earnestly in the eyes of the talker – if you take pen and paper and write down what the person is saying while they are talking?

A.  Writing things down helps listening in two ways: it focuses you on what the other party is saying and occupies your mind so that you don’t immediately react to what you are hearing!

Q. Thoughts on dealing with the “always ‘toxic'” family member?

A. Be realistic, stop arguing, and consider whether a graceful exit is possible. “Toxic” family members will sometimes stop being toxic if they think they may be encouraged to exit. They will almost certainly stop  being toxic if they are no longer part of a shared enterprise.  The family council (or other family representatives) need to decide  whether they have a mandate to deal with the toxicity. Are they empowered by the family at large to manage the behavior of individual family members? If not,  the only strategy remaining may be to ignore them and give them as little attention as possible during family meetings. “

Q.How do you determine when a conflict is a public/family business conflict  or a personal interfamily member conflict?

A. Great question! Some conflicts do need to be ignored by the family at large, others require attention. When a conflict is spilling over into the larger family and interfering with family functions, it probably merits broad family attention. I have found that family councils, exec committees, etc., can usefully explore whether it is within their mandate to address the conflict or not.

Q.  What suggestions do you have when you have a sibling that unilaterally makes decisions and several of the other siblings are very angry and want him removed. He has been the one running the business  so he thinks that he has to make the decisions and refuses to listen.

A.  You all should sit down with a third party and explore the roots of the conflict. All options for a  solution should be on the table, including separation.

Q.  Would these issues be easier to handle if the enterprise is looked at as a business family and not a family business

A. Interesting question. Viewing yourselves as a business family might bring a greater emphasis on the shared goal of being together in harmony.   However, if the underlying dynamics do not change, conflict will probably continue.

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Why does Conflict Make your Brain Go @#%%@@?

Stephanie Brun de Pontet
Stephanie Brun de Pontet

Most of us don’t like conflict.  This is reasonable – most of us have had conflicts in the past that damaged an important relationship, led to hurt feelings, anger, frustration – basically, negative emotions & negative outcomes.  In addition, many of us feel like we are at our ‘worst’ in conflict – we are not able think well (brain fog) so our reasoning is not as strong as we are used to, we feel blood rushing through our body in weird ways, and we may feel like we are ‘out of control’ – in short, the whole experience is physically unpleasant too. 

As a result, it seems reasonable that many people go out of their way to avoid conflict: conflict equals bad feelings and possible danger, I am a rational person, I don’t want any of that – I will avoid the conflict.  This is particularly true in the context of family business where conflict avoidance is a very common phenomenon.  In fact, we often point out to families that their conflict avoidance is unsurprising because their closest personal relationships, professional identity and fulfillment, and source of financial security are all tied together – really, who wants to rock that boat?!

Yet, while we don’t like conflict – we all know disagreements are natural, differing points of view can lead to richer decisions, and avoidance does not lead to solutions.  So while full avoidance is rarely the answer, the challenge is learning how to disagree with others in a way that does not degenerate into unhealthy conflict.  Given the emotional load of a family business this can be hard.   When it feels like there is a lot on the line, the most primitive (reptilian) part of your brain typically takes over: the famed ‘fight or flight’ response.  This system assumes you are facing an existential threat (think wild Tiger) and will flood your brain and your major muscles with clear signals that you need to either stand and fight or run for the hills – two rational options when faced with a Tiger.  

However, when it is a family conflict that is leading to this response, we would suggest that neither fleeing the room nor engaging in fisticuffs is probably a great solution.  What you do need to do is to find a way to re-engage with your rational mind.  While this can be easier said than done, the first step is often to recognize when you are responding in a ‘fight or flight’ manner.  When your primitive brain has taken over you are really no longer capable of rational thought, you are not likely listening, and you are also likely not doing a good job of making your point either.  If you become aware that your reptilian brain is now in charge it may be a good idea to seek a ‘time out’ from the discussion to give everyone a chance to cool down and return to rational brain work.  Be clear with one another that this is not avoidance – set a time to return to the discussion, but give yourselves a chance to cool off as needed, to ensure that when you get back together, it is to collaborate on a solution – rather than expend your energies trying to bash one another and prove why you are ‘right’ and they are ‘wrong.’

For more ideas on managing family conflict, please join the webinar my colleague David Lansky is running on this very topic on September 21stClick here for more information on the Effective Strategies for Avoiding and Managing Family Conflict webinar.

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