A Guide to Navigating Conflict


Conflict in a family business is a “we” problem. It affects everyone in the system, including the business. Here’s how to make sure your family fosters healthy conflict.
A guide to navigating conflict

A Guide to Navigating Conflict in Your Family Business (36:26)

by Josh Baron

BanyanGlobal partner and co-founder Josh Baron joins Editorial Director Karen Dillon for a conversation about conflict in family businesses. Not only did Baron co-author The Harvard Business Review Family Business Handbook, but he also created and taught a course on managing conflict in family businesses at Columbia Business School.

Key Takeaways: 

  • The culture of conflict is different in every family, but many families are so afraid of conflict that they will settle for “fake harmony”.
  • Conflict is a “Goldilocks problem”. Too much and too little are both unsustainable. You must find a middle ground of healthy and constructive conflict in order to achieve a sustainable path forward.
  • One of the best ways to avoid unhealthy conflict is to plan ahead by making policies for certain hot button issues before they become about a certain person or issue.
  • If you’re already headed down the path of unhealthy or potentially unhealthy conflict, take a step back and try to reframe your disagreement. The first step is to agree that coming to an agreement is better than what might happen if you don’t. If you can agree that that is your goal, you will be in a good place to work on the issues now and prepare for future generations.
  • Families never start a business together expecting to get to a point of suing each other, but this can happen. Being aware of the steps in the conflict spiral and knowing when your family might be on this path is the first step in getting back on track to working successfully together.
  • Before you jump into a difficult conversation, set some rules and have a discuss what you need in order to have a constructive meeting.
  • Navigating conflict in your family business can be more challenging because you feel more comfortable to step over the line of what you could do in a non-related business situation. But, these relationships between family members are more resilient and forgiving and can bounce back much easier and much quicker with at least a small amount of accountability.
  • Conflict in a family business is a “we” problem. It affects everyone in the system, including the business, and it takes dedication and cooperation from everyone to get back to a good, functioning place.

Time Stamps: 

[0:38] The reality of conflict in most family businesses is actually the opposite of what you see play out on the television or reported in the media. The effects of conflict in family businesses are amplified because of the multifaceted nature of the relationships in the system.
[2:59] Every family has its own culture of conflict—a level of conflict that is acceptable or not. Still, there are always going to be topics that are best avoided as they are unproductive, but there are many situations where families can benefit from sharing differing opinions.
[5:34] Conflict is a Goldilocks problem. Somewhere between the extremes you will find a middle ground of healthy, sustainable conflict.
[7:38] There are things you can do to avoid potential future arguments, such as creating policies before they become about any one person or any one issue.
[10:25] Although the best time to address issues that you suspect could cause tension is well before they become a problem, it is still possible to course correct once you’ve started down the path of contentious disagreement.
[13:04] There are a variety of topics that are common reoccurring issues for many families that, with preparation, you can identify and get out ahead of.
[14:49] The conflict spiral: a predictable, but preventable path that families often unknowingly start down when there are points of disagreement. It follows seven steps that end in lawsuits and almost always, the breakup of a family and family business. It is important to be aware of these steps and it is entirely possible to get out of it if you take the initiative to work together.
[24:19] Getting out of the conflict spiral is sometime that all parties need to agree on in order for the efforts to have a chance to be successful. Even though alone you may not have the power to change the way things are going, there are things you can do to help the situation.
[27:15] Set rules and talk about what each person needs or might be triggered by in the conversations addressing the dividing issues. By setting meeting ground rules and listening to what will make others feel defensive or upset, you are putting yourself and your family in a position for a productive conversation and a resolution.
[29:17] Family relationships are more resilient than regular business relationships. You can get away with a lot more–the things you say, the way you say them–but there is also more slack and more capacity for forgiveness.
[32:14] Try reframing the way you talk to those who you are in conflict with. Avoid “you always” or “you never” statements. Share how you feel without accusations or anger.
[33:48] A recap of the practical tips Josh Baron shared throughout the conversation.


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