Some New Ways to Look at Conflict in Families
Anyone who’s ever been involved in a family enterprise knows that the potential for conflict is never far away.
Those of us who work in an advisory capacity for such families have seen every sort of denial and attempt to pretend that “our family is different”, yet those are actually quite rare.
There isn’t necessarily anything new under the sun for me to share here, but I did come across a couple of new angles on this question recently, and I thought they were worth writing about, if only to spur more discussion on the topic.
A Recent FFI Session on Conflict
The Family Firm Institute hosted a recent half-day webinar on the subject of conflict, and since two friends and colleagues of mine were among those presenting, I thought I’d check it out.
They did a nice job of covering the territory and the feedback was great. My take-away tidbit, though, came from a comment from another experienced practitioner in one of the break-out rooms.
She’s someone who not only works with business families, but has also lived the family business experience, having followed her father into this work.
She recalled a quote of his, which was the initial inspiration for this post:
“We don’t run from conflict. We dance with conflict”
“Ooooh, I like that”, I thought, as I jotted it down. “This will turn into a blog post”. (Thanks KSM)
Something Good from Social Media
The second different angle that came my way followed in short order, when I wasn’t expecting it, from social media.
I love LinkedIn and have found many treasures there, initiated plenty of relationships there, and swear that there’s nothing else like it for business.
But my go-to “regular” social media is Twitter, which I use mostly for news, sports, and politics, because I’m a bit of a junkie for those subjects.
But every once in a while, I get a great nugget there too, and this was once such case.
I follow Dan Rockwell, a.k.a. LeadershipFreak, and he shared a tweet about conflict that included this magic line:
“Conflict Is a Leadership Opportunity”
If you go to stevelegler.com and use the “search” function and type in “conflict”, you’ll find blogs, videos, podcasts, etc. that discuss conflict in various ways.
But I’ve never, ever, heard it put this way, and it struck me.
One Plus One Equals Five
So now we have a couple of elements to work with, and you may already see where I’m going.
We’re talking about dancing and leadership, and when people dance together, ideally, in most cases, someone takes the lead, and it helps when their partner is a good follower.
This metaphor actually has some legs, and the feet at the end of them are wearing their dancing shoes!
And we haven’t even brought in the dance teacher yet, who, if they’re any good at their job, will always play the appropriate level and speed of music so the dancers can succeed.
Willing Partners as a Starting Point
In order for any family to deal with their conflict, they need to acknowledge that it exists, and then someone needs to have the courage to take the lead and put it on the table and insist that it’s high time that the family face it and manage it.
Notice I did not say “make it go away”, because that’s usually not a very realistic expectation and can be a bridge too far.
It’s rare for conflict to completely disappear, but acknowledging it can usually allow people to discuss it in ways that they can learn to make some changes in order to be able to manage it.
Or Maybe You Need the Teacher First
It’s great when the participants are ready to discuss the conflict and try to dance with it by themselves, but sometimes there’s an unwillingness to engage from someone, usually caused by a fear of making things worse.
In such cases, it can help if you find yourself a “dance instructor”, who can then convince the other party that you can learn how to dance with conflict together.
Or even if the parties aren’t all ready for the dance lessons, the motivated party might begin searching for someone who can hopefully lead them to some agreement down the road.
There are opportunities for leadership whenever there’s conflict. Who will step up in your family?