MANAGING DIFFERENCES AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION A SKILL MUST TO BE DEVELOPED IN FAMILY BUSINESS
Small Enterprise|August 2021
Longstanding family conflict can bring a family business to its knees. It saps energy and happiness and holds back the business from functioning optimally. The first step in resolving longstanding conflict is recognizing that the consequences of avoiding an issue are worse than the emotional discomfort of discussing it. Let us look at an example of a family that succeeded in resolving longstanding conflict.
Dr. N. Krishnan

The family, moving from its second to third generation of family operation and ownership, had hit a snag: Conflict was hindering the generational transition. The conflict had been under the surface for some time; everyone knew it was there but did not want to talk about it in an open format. A facilitator had been engaged to help the family with the transition, and one of the topics that emerged was the unresolved conflict. After years of remaining in a state of discomfort, the family realized they had to address the conflict in order to achieve their goals.

The issues primarily involved three siblings and one of their G4 uncles. A facilitated session was arranged so these

Four people could communicate in an effective and fair manner. The group convened at the traditional family home, with portraits of their forebears looking on. The facilitator reiterated the agreed-upon goals for the meeting, and everyone reviewed the protocol for how they would share the talking space, listen without judgment and manage their responses to shift their pattern of negative emotional reactions. The group agreed to look at the origins of the conflict, work to resolve their differences and agree on how they would move forward together.

The meeting began with tension in the air as the oldest sibling began to share his perspective on the origin of the conflict. Once he was done the uncle looked at the other two siblings and asked if they shared the same view, which they did to varying degrees. The look on his face was sorrow mixed with empathy, as he said, “Oh my, that’s what you think happened? Let me tell you what your father shared with me.…” The uncle proceeded to tell his version of events, which involved a conversation with his brother that had never before come to light. As the group talked through the events, it became clear that the source of the conflict was a significant misunderstanding about actions the uncle had taken after a conversation with his brother, and a lack of communication subsequently with the siblings. Given the deep-seated nature of the conflict, the group moved toward “resolving enough” to move forward, and agreed to view one another in a new way to rebuild trust.

Repairing the past is difficult, and while the meeting ended with a greater understanding of what had happened, hard feelings remained from years of tension. As a next step, the entire family group went on to develop a code of conduct aimed at improving communication and preventing future conflicts of the same type.

In this case, resolving longstanding conflict centered on several important steps:

  • A willingness to confront the topic and have difficult conversations.
  • Working with a facilitator to change old patterns and have productive conversations.
  • Making new agreements about how to communicate,interact together and resolve issues.
  • Actively shifting behaviors and remaining accountable to self and others.

Sources of longstanding conflict

As the family gets larger, more complex and more diverse, some conflict is inevitable. We find that the sources of conflict are often rooted in the interpersonal dynamics of the family and are then exacerbated by a lack of structure. Here are some of the major factors that contribute to conflict:

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