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Family Business Feud: Getting to the Root of the Issue

Family-owned businesses have a unique dynamic. There is a lot more emotion involved than in a public company where answering to the shareholder is the driving force behind all decisions.

This emotion can be a positive thing – creating a feeling of unity in which everyone works together to reach a common and even righteous goal. Emotion, though, can complicate things as well – especially among family members in the business. Family relationship dynamics often leak into actual work issues, sometimes amplifying those issues into something bigger than they should be – at least from a business standpoint.

This happens most often in parent-child relationships at work. As the next generation starts to come up in the business, the parent-child relationship can be strained. The parent is still in charge, but the child wants to make his or her own waves as well. This can lead to miscommunication and damaged feelings that can ultimately harm the business. But it doesn’t have to.

Here are a few ways to avoid mixing family with business when conflict arises:

Question Yourself

When conflicts arise and emotions are running high, the first step I recommend as a family business advisor is to take a step back. Ask yourself what the real issue is. Are you angry because of a business problem, or does it go deeper? If the conflict was not resolved, what would that mean for business? Be honest with yourself and take your emotions out of the equation. Your feelings are important, but asking yourself these questions will help you determine what the true driver of your feelings is.

Start a Journal

Emotions are powerful. It can be hard to get to the root of the issue when you’re engulfed in emotion. If there is a recurring conflict at work, start a journal and write down everything that sets you off. Over time, you’ll be able to see a pattern in your emotions and what triggers them – helping you get to the root of the issue. Having a clear view of the issue will go a long way toward helping you and your family members solve it.

Modify Your Behavior

Conflict resolution requires effort by both parties. Start the process by asking yourself how you could react differently when your emotions are triggered. The key is to make the situation more palatable, as it will make conflict resolution easier. Try to level off your emotions – don’t be overly aggressive, and don’t play the victim. Do your part to meet in the middle.

Know Your Boundaries

When you’re dealing with family at work, it’s easy to lose perspective. What you would say to a parent or child at home is often not appropriate to say in a business setting. Raising your voice, yelling or acting in a flippant manner can undermine your family member’s position in the company – especially if it is done in front of other employees. Learn to recognize the appropriate response before you respond, not after.

Read more about how to address conflict in family business.

Define Your Win

Your feelings are worth fighting for, but what does an actual “win” look like? Defining exactly what you are fighting for – instead of just fighting – will help you and your family map out how to come to an agreement. The power base, at work or at home, is never equal between parent and child. That’s just the way of the world. However, in my experience as a family business advisor, understanding what you need is the first step to actually getting what you need.

Learn When to Let Go

There’s no manual on how to conduct parent-child relationships. No “official” manual anyway. Family relationships can be difficult to manage, but bringing them to work does nothing but compound the problem. Work with your family members to define the power structure at work – and stick to it. Know your limits in the office. If an issue falls outside of those limits, save it for outside of work.

Learn how to develop leadership in a family business.

Navigating family relationships is hard. Keeping them out of the business side, though, is paramount for both your family and your family business. Enlist the help of a family business advisor to learn techniques for maintaining healthy work and personal relationships.

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One Response to Family Business Feud: Getting to the Root of the Issue

  1. eliane markoff says:

    Hi Denise, Your articles always resonate with me. Having been a family business mediator and an Ombudsperson at Wheelock College, your articles are very helpful. Thank you for sharing them. Warm regards, Eliane

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