According to experts in field of conflict management, 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”. The bottom line is that true conflicts in family businesses tend to be processes rather than one-time events. Typically owners and managers tackle smaller challenges, managing them effectively in real time. But when one-time events, whether in the family or the business are ignored, they can become chronic, stack up over time, and potentially become a crises point for both the family and the business. This is particularly true when those events are rooted in common, long-playing family dynamics – sometimes across generations. Families that learn to effectively manage these kinds of conflicts do so to specifically maintain relationships in ways that benefit of both extended family and the business.
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With recent events in Egypt filling our television screens, I am reminded how conflict, when managed well, has the potential to propel a group of people toward bigger and better things – whether that group represents a country, a business or a family. But conflict within organizations is a routine part of corporate life. While it may vary in intensity, depth and stability, how leaders manage those conflicts can make a difference.
In Egypt’s case, there is potential for their conflict to usher in a new age of deeper democracy. But if conflict is mismanaged or allowed to languish, it can also wreak havoc in a way that leaves members of a group in a spot they may not have intended for themselves. This is especially true for Family Businesses because the emotional ties of family members with each other and with the history of the company create a potentially intense environment. Normally this juncture is one of the main ingredients that make a Family Business such a successful and special place of business, benefiting family, community and even country. But that same intense environment – with the addition of mismanaged conflict – can also produce results that no one really wants.
In Egypt’s case, it appears that much energy has gone toward maintaining a culture of “not rocking the boat” or “honoring leaders” for a very long time. In Family Businesses, conflicts that are ignored or mismanaged, even for seemingly good reasons, might also be deflecting energy away from solving root problems or issues. The real dilemma comes when the practice of ignoring or mismanaging conflict starts creating chronic challenges that undermine trust, dampen innovation and produce disengagement. In a Family Business the repercussion of these challenges have significant consequences for both business and family.
Anticipating and strategizing ways that conflict can be managed in a way that converges energy toward solving a problem or challenge is more likely to provide a healthy benefit to the organization and individuals working together to address it