Editorial Content by Manuel Blasini-Méndez
Dealing with family conflict is a challenging but necessary part of running any family business. And because of the history and depth of familial relationships, there are many layers to peel off when getting to the bottom of the issue.
For the same reasons, however, resolving conflictin a family business can be extraordinarily powerful — the impact that any newfound harmony has on the business all the more profound. Keeping the following in mind can make the difference in how successful family members are in navigating conflict in the family business.
Lean Into the Process
Most of the time, conflict within a family business has nothing to do with the surface-level reason or incident that necessitates intervention. Therefore focusing on the process will allow you to figure out the real reason behind the conflict. Don’t focus on what is being said but on why and how it’s being said.
By being aware of the why we can understand how we are responding to each other. This will enable a level of understanding of the person’s worldview and background; it will serve as a foundation for mutual respect and understanding. As a consultant/advisor, by shedding some light into the family members why we can bring a new level of understanding and awareness of the conflict.
It is important to note and have family members understand that often, how the person responds to what you’re saying has nothing to do with the content of what you are saying; it has everything to do with what it means to them and how you communicate it. How you communicate in a difficult conversation is very important.
Model Curiosity and Teach It
Curiosity is an excellent tool to facilitate the process — a crucial part of navigating conflict. Being curious will allow you to better understand the conflict, and by modelling this curiosity, you are teaching other family members how to grow in their understanding of each other; this will allow you to understand their internal processes.
Make Others Feel Seen, Heard and Understood
One of the main reasons people engage in what can be a long-lasting conflict is that they have not been seen, heard and understood. Being seen, heard and understood is a basic human need that we all have. In families, not experiencing this can often lead to interpersonal conflict because we all have an innate desire to be seen, heard and understood by our family. The key to being seen, heard and understood is empathy.
When you allow a person to feel, leaving room for them to name it, meet them where they are at with empathy. Empathy is a crucial aspect of any conflict, one that many family members overlook.
To be empathic, it is essential to connect to the feelings behind what the person is saying. It would be best if you connected with the emotions that underpin their experience. A person can rarely be empathic towards someone if they are solely focusing on the content of what they are saying.
This is why focusing on the process is important because it can help you empathise during the conversation.
When working with conflict, it is crucial to put yourself in the other persons’ shoes, to be non-judgmental about others’ experiences, to actively strive towards understanding the other persons why and, to communicate their understanding of that person’s feelings. Conflict without empathy will lead to more conflict.
Keep Countertransference in Check
Having to deal with conflict could likely elicit feelings and experiences connected to totally unrelated conflict. Be mindful of what comes up for you and make sure it doesn’t interfere with the task at hand.