I’ve been joking for sometime saying that family business reminds me a lot of a hockey game. A fight breaks out almost every time.
Conflict breaks out in most family businesses.
Yet, the truth is, conflict happens in just about every business. One of the important things we teach our family business clients, is that conflict in and of itself it’s not necessarily a bad thing. How your family deals with conflict is the most important part.
Conflict usually is an indication that people are passionate about something. The conflict is happening because they want something to be different than what it is. Change can be good. Passion is good.
So here is my quick recipe for handling conflict:
- Realize conflict is inevitable and healthy
- Get training on conflict styles
- Practice embracing conflict
- Learn to have healthy conflict
- Learn to keep conflict in the business, out of the family
Realize conflict is inevitable and healthy
As I said before, really passionate people bring their passion to their ideas. That, many times, will cause conflict. Think about working out at the gym. Your muscles hurt because there are “micro tears” of the muscle. Conflict is what helps you build new muscle. In a business, conflict is what brings out new ideas, new behaviors and new results.
Many families avoid conflict. That’s understandable. Great family businesses realize it is inevitable and healthy.
Get training on conflict styles
When you learn about each other’s conflict style, it really helps you begin to understand how to navigate the conflict in a more productive way. We use a very simple assessment that characterizes people’s conflict style as one of the following:
- The shark
- The owl
- The turtle
- The teddy bear
- The fox
You get the idea. If your brother is a shark, you better realize that and learn how to better disarm the shark. It’s amazing what happens when people can step back and begin to understand their style and how it interacts with others.
Practice embracing conflict
This can be the most difficult step. Now that you know conflict is inevitable and healthy, it’s important that you encourage everyone on the team to “lean into” the conflict. That doesn’t mean that we should have a locker room with a bunch of fighting going on everyday.
You should see a fair amount of conflict happening to know that you are embracing conflict and not just burying it under the surface. Remember stuff that gets buried underground eventually blows up. See our Family Business Landmine Detection Map to understand more about that.
Learn to have healthy conflict
Now that you know it’s inevitable and you’re leaning into it, we want to see conflict that has reasonable discussion, debate and good resolution. We need players feeling like things got resolved in a healthy manner.
Remember, like any new skill you’re learning, it will be a little bit awkward at first. There may be a particular conflict that is extra messy. You may not be at your best, but good coaching leaders make sure that the trend on handling conflict is going in the right direction. The team is learning to handle it and move through it more quickly and effectively.
Learn to keep conflict in the business and out of the family
This is a concept that many of our clients struggle with. Business is business. Think of it like walking onto the football field. On the field is the place where you can mix it up, be passionate, and have some conflict all in the name of making a better business.
When you walk off the field and back into your home, leave the conflict in the business. That’s what high-level business professionals do.
Less mature people brood and bring the conflict home with them. They start to retaliate in the family setting. They start to withhold their engagement or their children from the family. Please don’t do that.
If you cannot learn to deal with conflict in the business without having it pollute the family relationships, you should seriously consider working someplace else. Business can be a full-contact sport. Learn to be more effective in your arguments, in your conflict or conveying your business ideas. If things are not going your way, do not bring a business conflict into the home.
Coaches summary. Some of the best players I’ve met are incredibly competitive and they are also really passionate. Learn to embrace the conflict. Learn to get good at it and learn not take it personally.
At the same time don’t tolerate someone that fights dirty or seems to like to fight just for the sake of fighting. Remember, a certain amount of conflict is healthy. Too much conflict is damaging and corrosive to the overall team environment.
Conflict Skills is one of the exercises in our Family Business Playbook. You can get a free sample of the Playbook here.
Learn to coach, play to win!
Pete Walsh is a demanding, courageous and playful Master Coach in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the founder of Peak Workout Business Coaching and the Family Business Performance Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.