7 Ways to Resolve Conflict in a Family Business

conflict resolution in family business

Family Business Conflict Resolution

Conflict is part of life and part of business. And working through conflict is seldom easy. But navigating through conflict is even more challenging when it occurs within a family business.

Most family businesses experience conflict between family members. However, few family businesses have internal mechanisms in place to resolve conflict in the family business.

Conflict in a family business may be complex, as the result of business and familial issues being often mixed together. However, tools to help resolve conflict don't need to be complicated.

Here are 7 ways to help minimize and resolve conflict in the business family.

1. Turn Down the Temperature

It is often suggested that married couples never 'let the sun go down on your anger."

This saying is a caution to couples that going to bed angry, or with an unresolved conflict isn't healthy.

I won't comment on such a philosophy as it applies to personal relationships. But I will say that in business, and especially in a family business, that emotion needs to be removed from the equation as much as possible.

Getting into a discussion about a contentious business issue when feelings and emotions are running high is rarely a recipe for a successful outcome.

When emotions are high, participants are more focused on being right or winning the argument, rather than finding a solution and doing what is best for the business.

A walk around the block, or a good nights sleep will serve as a buffer to deescalate a confrontation.

When an item is not an emergency, it is always advisable to schedule a follow-up discussion when parties have had a chance to cool down and formulate their thoughts.

2. Focus on the Real Issue

In a family business, the root of much of the conflict that happens is a result of an issue that lies within the family and not the business.

For instance, the oldest sibling may have bullied his or her way over the other siblings while they were growing up and continues to act this way in the boardroom or on the shop floor.

Or, the youngest child may have always get his or her way growing up, and that expectation is brought into the family business.

Whenever a conflict occurs, all parties need to ask themselves if the root issue is a family issues or a business issue.

A conflict can rarely be resolved if the real source of the conflict is not addressed.

3. Everyone Has to Be Part of the Solution

Again, the purpose of conflict resolution is to resolve the conflict, not to assign blame.

To help facilitate a forward thinking approach, everyone involved in the conflict should be asked to propose a solution to the conflict.

The purpose here is to have everyone consider what an agreeable outcome looks like for them, and what actions need to be taken by each person to reach the desired outcome.

The goal is to find a consensus on what the goal is, and what actions need to be completed to reach the goal.

4. There are Always Consequences

Unresolved conflict always has consequences. And most times, the consequences are negative for either the business or the business family.

Or both.

Likewise, conflict that is resolved productively will almost always have positive consequences for the business and the family.

It is important to list the negative consequences of not resolving the conflict. And openly discuss the ramifications of continuing on the same course.

Likewise, the benefits of resolving the conflict need to be made clear to everyone.

In the end, it is much like looking at an accounting ledger.

The negative consequences are like 'costs' to your business, while the positive consequences are like 'revenue' for your business.

The question should be asked, "how does this conflict, and how we choose to deal with it affect our bottom line?"

5. Establish Common Ground

A key strategy to resolving conflict is to find common ground.

In a family business, most family members will agree that:

a) they want the family to get along

b) they want the business to make money

Once some key areas of agreement are established, a discussion on the finer points of agreement can be discussed.

For instance, if everyone agrees that they want the business to make money, then what is the structure that needs to be created or used to ensure this happens?

This may include the creation of a formal decision making process, an accountability structure, or a system of communication be used that will work to minimize conflict and also achieve the main goal of profitability.

6. The Other Person isn't our Enemy

Often in a conflict, it is easy to view the other person as our enemy.

it is important to remember that a difference of opinion does not in and of itself mean that the other person is opposed to our viewpoint, or our success.

An important step to resolving conflict is to get a clear understanding of what the other person wants.

We can't assume that we know what the other person wants.

Often, conflict is caused by assuming that we know what the other family member wants, and that their position is directly opposed to ours.

This creates an enemy, or me versus them mentality.

Again, establishing common ground, points of agreement and getting clarity on another's position will help us to see the conflict (and it's solution) more clearly.

7. Establish Trust

I think most of us would agree that action speak louder than words.

So it's important when working to resolve a conflict that the agreed upon actions be completed by the person that has agreed to take the action in the agreed upon time frame.

It's really just a matter of doing what we said we will do, when we said we will do it.

Being accountable and reliable established trust.

When trust exists, nearly every conflict can be resolved.

When trust has been damaged, conflict is often intensified and resolution is harder to achieve.

In a family business, trust is the key ingredient for successfully resolving conflict.

Closing Thoughts

Conflict occurs in a family business. And one shouldn't look down on their family or their family business because conflict is happening.

Conflict, and more importantly, the process of resolving conflict can be a healthy exercise for a business family when handled correctly.

For more information about resolving conflict in family business, or for getting help for your family business, please log on to www.abbusinessbuilders.ca

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