Lessons from Dad, CEO: Conflict in the Family Business

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Lesson Two:  We’re all in this together…believe in one another. A guide to navigating conflict in the family business.

Every family has unique dynamics and each member carves out a role that just seems to fit his/her strengths. Among the many roles, there is usually the role of “person in charge,” the role of “peacekeeper,” the role of “challenger,” and the role of “planner/organizer.” And in some cases, multiple people want the same role; which can cause conflict in the family business. To add to that, the role in the family may not match the position they hold within the company.

When we bring the family aspect into the business it is sometimes difficult to separate our personal roles from our business roles. Each member of family businesses tends to be passionate about the reputation of the business. We want to contribute to the success of the company and leave our impression or legacy.

When we combine the passion for business success, the various roles we each plan and the human desire to be right, we’ve set ourselves up for conflict, disagreement, and potentially creating sides regarding the opinions of others.

“Conflict in the family business is inevitable. These differences of opinion can be deadly to the success or future of the business or family.”


Conflict in the family business is inevitable. These differences of opinion can be deadly to the success or future of the business or family. However, if we recognize the potential for these conflicts to happen, we can create an environment where debate rather than conflict is good, and even healthy for the business and family. When there are family members within the business, regardless of the number of generations, there are a few steps that can be taken to create an environment that is not only healthy but drives the business forward in a productive way.

Believe in the intentions of others.

When opinions differ, we sometimes think or say things like, “What are they trying to do to me?” or “They just don’t get it!” Stop and think about it for just a minute. What is the other person’s real intent? Do you believe that the other person is also trying to help the company be as successful? Or do you believe his/her true intent is to sabotage you or the success of the business? In most cases, it’s the former. Sometimes other people just have a different thought process, different perspective, or more information than you do.  Believe in good intent.

Speak directly.

When we hear that another has a difference of perspective from ours, instead of addressing it or worse, talking to other family members or employees about the situation, talk directly to the person with whom you disagree. Do not use email. Pick up the phone or better yet, talk face-to-face about the situation. Use phrases like, “I need to better understand your perspective.” “Help me understand what you mean when you say…” or “When you said…this is what I heard. Was that your intent?” Using phrases that frame the discussion rather than set up defensiveness will lead to open communication and a healthy resolution.

Restate or create a common goal.

We get caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities and activities. And sometimes we forget or don’t know what our common goal is. What is it that we are trying to accomplish every day? Is it to build the business? Is it to create opportunities for family and customers? In some cases, there isn’t a common goal because there is an assumption that everyone knows what it is; however, everyone’s opinion if polled is differently. If your company has a set of strategic goals, look there to identify the common goal. If you don’t have a strategic goal, then talk to others to determine and clarify the goal of the interaction. Consider these questions: Why was the business started? Is that the same today? Why are we here? You’d be surprised at how much a clear common goal can reduce conflict between people.

Conflict between people is not uncommon; in fact, it is inevitable. And so is conflict in the family business. The ability to resolve conflict between people, especially family members, in a way that preserves the relationship and is healthy is less common. Use these steps to work toward healthy conflict and remember…

For more on the challenges of family business, click here!

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