Understanding conflict in the family business (Part 2)

Otis Baskin
Otis Baskin

Although conflict in a family and therefore a family business is natural and inevitable, it does not have to be destructive. If it is expected, conflict can be managed into productive behaviors. Denying and avoiding conflict only exacerbates its destructive potential.

I often work with families that have major differences regarding the direction of the business they own but never openly discuss the varying opinions among themselves. The fear that bringing up any disagreement will be harmful to the harmony of the family, hurtful to the previous generation, or otherwise destructive to the business keeps important decisions from being made with all the information available. Limited input into major decision making processes always leaves a business vulnerable to out-of-date or short-term thinking. However, if conflicting ideas can be heard without destructive behavior, the result can actually be increased harmony because everyone has confidence that the final decision was made with all points-of-view and as much information as possible.

First, find as much in common as possible before there is a conflict. For families, this can generally be done by spending some time defining the values that have made it possible to have the great blessing of a successful business. What are the stories of grandparents and great grandparents that everyone finds inspiring and enjoys telling with regard to the success the family has enjoyed? What are the “truth sayings” that have been passed along within the family? How have these beliefs and values influenced the development of our business in the past? How can they be useful in today’s environment?

Second, people should not be forced to give up their individuality to participate in the blessings of their family business – they simply need to value the important things they have in common. When the day-to-day operating focus is on common principles that are important to everyone, differences can be accepted without the fear that “we no longer know who we are.” Grounded in the knowledge that they have a set of core beliefs in common, family members can listen to differing opinions and value all perspectives; talk about problems rather than people; seek common interests and develop “both/and” rather than “either/or” solutions as often as possible.

Yes, communication is the key but it must be respectful, caring, and carefully managed.

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