Avoiding Conflict Within a Family Business

June 27, 2017

Mark Bradford one of our Specialist Family Business Advisors gives some thoughts around conflict.

The Problem

Naturally conflict arises in all businesses between individuals, departments, etc., however in family businesses they have a special significance due to the nature of the relationships that exist. As with many situations it is better to prevent rather than have to find a cure, and conflict is no different!

Conflict can arise for a number of reasons including: misunderstanding, difference of opinion, mistakes made, speaking before engaging the brain, self-centred view points and so on. Some conflict can develop out of historical family situations and these are especially difficult to deal with.

In a family business the outcome of conflict can have serious consequences for both the business and the family and so taking every step possible to prevent conflicts arising in the first place is generally the preferred way forward.

So what steps can we take now to prevent conflict arising, or indeed help resolve conflict that has already come to the surface but has not yet been resolved? The key for tackling all conflict is communication, but most importantly it has to be achieved in the right way. There are some key management tools and communication rules that can be forgotten by families.


The Solutions

Compliment in public, reprimand in private!

It is so easy to forget this rule, but it is very important.  Even a minor reprimand in front of others can be highly demotivating and can give rise to both short and long term resentment.


In a family situation at home, a mother and father might have been involved in parental control together and other family members being present in a lot of different situations, but in a business parental style control should not be used, and where family members work together it is easy to forget that.


The younger generation must also respect their parents authority and not answer back in a public situation. The “can I have a quiet word” conversation in private is a healthier approach.


Non family members will struggle with receiving a reprimand in public and may also take advantage of situations where they have been present when a family member has been reprimanded in this way.


Treat others as you would like to be treated

Easy to say, but difficult to achieve sometimes when the pressure is on in a business environment. It is vital however to gain respect from all employees, family and non-family.


Parent / child relationships are the hardest to apply this principle to. It takes a lot of effort from both parties but it is essential to work at this. “Being treated like a child then they will act like a child” will come out to play and be the basis for irrational conflict.


Be consistent

Talk to all employees, family and non-family in the same way. This applies to all family members at whatever level they are in the business.


It is all too easy sometimes to treat a family member like they are at home and talk to them in a way that becomes patronising in the workplace where it would not be at home. Using pet names for example.


Regular weekly or monthly meetings

Meetings that have a proper agenda, take place at specified regular intervals, have proper minutes taken with action points, detailing who is responsible and with deadlines, are one of the simplest and quickest ways to avoid misunderstanding. As a result conflict is less likely to occur.


Clarity or roles and responsibilities

You may have seen this little story below before but it is worth repeating as it tells a story very effectively:


“Here is a story of 4 people. Anybody, Somebody, Everybody, and Nobody.


There was an important job to be done. Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it but, Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about it because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it. Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody, when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”


Everyone likes to know where they stand and so often in family businesses job descriptions are not used, are poorly written or are out of date.


Spending time preparing a proper job description for each member of the team is another very effective way of eliminating misunderstandings like the story above.


Family Business Solutions have a team of experts in this field who can quickly support you by training the team and implementing the concepts detailed above. Call now on 0141 222 2820.

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