Choosing Sides in a Family Business
I sometimes write about conflict management and resolution, because family businesses are rife with opportunities for clashes of personalities and ideas.
But this post will be a bit different from others I’ve written in the past.
Today I want to get into a family conflict and ask readers which side they would choose in a fictitious war between two sides in a family.
The Guerrero Family
Vince and Walt Guerrero are the two oldest brothers in the family that owns a specialized factory in a mid-sized northern town.
Their father, Guillermo, started the business some 40 years ago and is preparing to retire, leaving the business to his four children.
Sabrina and Teresa, the two youngest siblings, used to work in the business as well, but both left because there was just too much conflict.
Vince’s Side or Walt’s Side?
Vince and Walt don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on many things, and each of them wants to be the new President when Dad finally retires.
Sabrina and Teresa get along very well with each other, and they both love their brothers equally, and the boys are constantly trying to get their sisters on their side of every issue.
Which side should they choose?
A Common Scenario
While the scenario I just described is actually quite typical, the question that I’m asking you is not.
Of course, there isn’t enough information to give a reasonable answer to the question, and I already spent a couple hundred words describing it.
It’s actually a really stupid question because I’m asking you to “choose sides” when there really aren’t any sides to choose!
Study Group Example
One way that this post is different from my usual format is that I usually start out by giving some context to the genesis of the post, but this time I’ve saved that for here, in the middle.
I’m part of a peer study group through the Family Firm Institute (FFI) and we had a meeting recently where some of us got together to discuss a variety of topics, including some real case examples we are dealing with.
Conflictual Family Drama
One group member spoke about two siblings who were always in confrontations and how the other family members were always trying to decide which one of them to support.
We have a long-term FFI member who acts as a mentor and moderator on our calls, and she made a statement that resonated with me, so I wrote it down, intending to use it for a blog.
Nancy said, “Oh, so they’re choosing sides when there really aren’t any sides to choose!”
“Bingo!”, I thought.
Whose Side Are You On?
The point Nancy was making (I think!) is that while the combatants are trying to make it about “my side” versus “his side”, anyone else who looks at it that way is falling into a trap.
Taking sides is usually a false choice.
Oh, I get that this happens in family businesses, and it still happens far too often.
Family members who work together or manage assets together won’t always see things the same way and will often try ot get others to come to their side of every argument, but that doesn’t mean the other family members need to oblige!
Interests versus Positions
If you’ve read even a little bit about negotiation, you’ve likely heard about the difference between “positions” and “interests”.
Fisher and Ury’s “Getting to Yes” was the first place I recall reading about this, and that was in the 1980’s, so this isn’t anything new.
If each side simply holds to their position, the negotiation will likely remain a zero-sum game, where any gain by one side is a loss for the other.
Digging Their Heels In
Sometimes in a negotiation, both sides really dig their heels in, usually because there’s some emotional aspect to the conflict that prevents them from letting go.
And yes, sometimes in family businesses people get into conflicts that are complicated by emotional issues.
Get Past their Positions
In order to have a better chance at a successful resolution, you need to get past their “positions” (My way / I’m right) and get to their interests.
Then, when you can find the common interests that both sides have, there’s something to work with.
Can the other family members avoid taking sides, and look for common interests instead?
I sure hope so!