Managing Conflict in Family Businesses

Even the most successful families experience conflict now and again. In family businesses, conflict is unavoidable. Fortunately, research overwhelmingly shows that it is not the presence of conflict that is detrimental to relationships, rather, it is how conflict is managed. It is best realised that conflict can be managed and not resolved when referring to conflict because, although it seems counter intuitive to embrace conflict, family conflict is natural and can provide learning and growth opportunities for families who approach it consciously.

Conflict can be brought about for a number of reasons. Criticism may be one such reason. Criticism is when a judgement is expressed on another person’s personality or character, rather than focusing on the behavior they are exhibiting. There is a difference here between complaining and criticism. A complaint addresses a specific failed action. A criticism adds some negative words about the other person’s character or personality.

Criticism may lead to defensiveness. We tend to want to defend ourselves when we are criticized. However, defensiveness is really just blaming in reverse. When people are defensive, they want to take the heat off themselves and put it on the other person. What they are really saying is: “It’s not me, it’s you.” All this does is escalate the conflict further.

Contempt could be another path to conflict and it includes treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm, belittling, cynicism, name-calling and hostile humour. It can show up in body-language as eye-rolling and sneering. Contempt is the most poisonous because it conveys disgust and superiority: “I’m better than you, you are less than me.” In this way, contempt attacks the other’s sense of self.

Stonewalling, yet another reason to bring about conflict includes cutting off communication, silent treatments, refusals to engage, withdrawal, or in mild cases simply being unwilling to express what you are thinking. Stonewalling shows up commonly in business-owning families when one or more of the other.

One of the first steps in managing conflict in your family is to raise awareness both individually and collectively about how toxins emerge in conversations when conflict is present.

There are many factors that build a family’s capacity to work together as a team and increasing the likelihood of family business continuity. Broadly speaking two things are required: adequate structures and good relationships. Families who do all the right things but ignore the damage that toxins in communication have on their family relationships often find it difficult to sustain long-term success. Reducing toxic behaviour can help increase the overall positivity that is so important for relationships to thrive and to sustain family teams in their quest for their own well-being and the well-being of the business.

( All factual and statistical information presented in this blog has been obtained from an extract of an article from the ) Follow us on our Facebook page and Family Business Office website at

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