Family Biz Conflict and how to handle it

FamBiz Conflict: Resolve it or Manage it?

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In any family business, conflict can occur quite naturally, and often does. “Oh crap, now what?” is one of the thoughts that can often go through one’s mind when they first get wind of family members not getting along as hoped.

This subject is potentially huge, and not necessarily something that one can easily tackle in about 700-words, but there are a couple of points that I want to make here, while being far from exhaustive.

Entire books have literally been written on this subject, and one, called Deconstructing Conflict, came out recently and I read it this summer. I even reviewed it (with a five star rating) on Amazon.com, which was a first for me.

One key learning from the book is that because conflict occurs so naturally in family business, we should not try to resolve it, but just manage it.

The idea, as I understood it, is that if you try to resolve it, one of two things will likely occur:

  • You will spend a lifetime trying, and you are bound to be disappointed, or,
  • You will believe that the conflict has been resolved, but you will later learn that it was not truly resolved.

 

Let’s just resolve it

Well, I am not that skeptical, and I think that making an effort to try to resolve conflict is often worth it, and it certainly feels better than just acting as if you can’t ever get rid of it.

This week I attended a course that is part of the Third Party Neutral program in Ottawa at the CICR.

Interestingly, CICR stands for the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. So clearly the people who named this organisation believe in the possiblity of resolution.

And there is also an entire field called ADR, which stands for “Alternative Dispute Resolution”, so there must be some hope of actually resolving conflicts.

Or maybe a “dispute” is just a subset of a conflict, and you can resolve a (minor) dispute, but not a (major) conflict?

Of course we can’t forget that family business situations are often ones in which truly resolving all conflicts can be next to impossible. So now what?

 

Process versus Content

Well conflict management skills and conflict resolution skills are really quite interchangeable, as you might well imagine.

There are a couple of things that I have picked up in my ADR training as well as these TPN courses that have really stuck with me.

The first is that there is a huge difference between Process and Content. Sounds obvious, I know, but something struck me this week that drove it home even further for me, and even scared me a bit too.

The neutrality aspect of facilitation and mediation (i.e. bringing in someone from the outside) was what drew me to this type of training when I entered the advisory side of the family legacy field, because I fully understood that an external, unbiased person was an absolute requirement to tackle any family conflict.

 

Is Process Enough?

I have learned and practised a number of techniques and processes, and filled my toolbox with ideas that I can use in a variety of difficult situations.

There is a lot of “art” to all of this, and the idea of “who I am” in this work, as opposed to “what I do”, is not lost on me either.

Now I want to share the scary part, but let’s just keep it between us, OK?

The scary part is that in order to help a business family work through their conflict(s), it is more important to know about conflict resolution and management processes than it is to know anything about family business.

In fact, there was one roleplay I did this week, in an area in which I had zero knowledge, and it was actually liberating to be ignorant. My lack of understanding of some issues helped me focus on the process only, without getting into the content.

Of course if you just want the conflict resolved or managed, conflict “process” people can help a lot.

If, however, you want to build a strong family base going forward, get someone who does conflict well, AND who understands family legacy.